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Michaela Coel Unpacks New Book “Misfits” & Existing Despite the White Gaze

The problem is sometimes that doesn’t happen, and then it makes it worthless. So I think we have to strive as members of these academies … to keep the authenticity. And then the value remains, even if that means the award does not go to whatever star that the majority of people know, but the award goes to a film like Rocks, a really beautiful film written by Theresa Ikoko. I think because it didn’t have the money to do a big campaign and it was a bunch of new people … this really beautiful film didn’t really get the attention it deserves. It’s really complex, isn’t it? But I think there is a way for these awards to remain really important if they can keep hold of valuing art for art’s sake and nothing else.

TV: Let’s talk about Trailer-Gate [an incident where a white Chewing Gum cast member was given a private trailer on set while the Black cast members were grouped into one trailer]. I’m really interested across the pond about what racism looks like to white folks in the sphere of arts, and why are they so uncomfortable with that term?

MC: I think that it’s uncomfortable because the word “racism”… It’s a word that implies you’re very conscious about your erasure, mistreatment, and judgment of nonwhite people. Right? And that’s what I think makes people uncomfortable.

It may be easier for people to accept that they were not thinking and therefore these things happened. It feels like the minute the word racism comes in all these barriers come up. If we just think, “You weren’t thinking,” it may allow people to engage with their behavior or lack of behavior, more easily. It’s more important for me to think about the change that I want to see, rather than getting someone to accept that they’re a racist. If that isn’t going to bring around the change I want to see, then I’m happy to not do that. Let’s instead talk about thoughts and consciousness and maybe you weren’t thinking, and then we get to the thing that we want.

TV: Cancel culture in general, I’m always interested in how much it’s actually helping the person being canceled, develop into a better person, or are they changing because of shame?

MC: Yeah. Or the other thing it can do is make someone … If you label someone that you can also make them lean into that label and then find a community of like-minded people. “So you’re calling me a racist? All right. I’m just going to go look for the racists, I’m going to sit into this. This is my new identity. I’m going to fucking own this shit.” Because doing the other thing, questioning themselves, and being uncomfortable is harder. So yeah. I don’t know how much it’s helping. I think, on one hand, it maybe is, but on another hand, it isn’t.

TV: I loved your quote about essentially absorbing and listening to other people in regards to the auditionee who wrote about a Malaysian character who she thought was written one-dimensionally on Chewing Gum. At first, you wanted to react and you did a little, but then you sat with it. Can you talk about the importance of just listening, in general? Just hearing other people out.

MC: I think it is the hardest thing to do. And that’s me knowing it’s the best thing to do, yet I still catch myself wanting to immediately challenge or dismiss so quickly. I think there are as many perspectives as there are people. Imagine if someone, say, for example, you. Are you born in America?

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