Michaela Coel has said people thought she was “disturbed” when she turned down a million-dollar deal from Netflix for her groundbreaking series I May Destroy You, but she wanted to “say no to being exploited”.
The TV star, who created, wrote and starred in the drama exploring sexual consent, and directed some of the episodes, ended up partnering with HBO and the BBC on the series, which went on to win two Baftas.
Discussing the decision to turn down such a huge pay day because she would not be allowed to own the copyright of her work, Coel told BBC Radio 4’s Women’s Hour: “I don’t remember feeling like people found me difficult, I remember feeling like people found me disturbed.
“So it was almost like: ‘She’s a crazy woman’ – that’s the other one, she’s either difficult or she’s crazy – to the point where I began to think I was crazy or unnecessarily paranoid.
“At that stage it’s hard to say to people: ‘Trust your gut and follow your instinct,’ because it’s not a very useful sentence all the time, but that is what I did in that situation and I’m very glad I did, because in the end I wasn’t a crazy woman that was acting wild and disturbed and unhinged.
“I was right to observe the industry and observe there was a lack of transparency because there was an exploitation occurring, and if I didn’t press on despite being seen as crazy and paranoid and unhinged, I wouldn’t have got to that truth and I wouldn’t have ended up saying no to being exploited and I would not have have had the space to yes to employers who were not exploiting me, who were willing to collaborate with me and listen to me and treat me as an equal.
“I had to say no to the former to make space for the latter.”
Agreeing that is was a “cool situation” to turn down one million dollars, Coel said: “It’s a cool situation and it’s even cooler if you realise that you don’t need a million dollars.
“I was living at that time in a house share with lovely Ash, my housemate, and I had enough food to eat. I did not need a million dollars, which means I can make the decision whether I take that or not.
“What is behind that million dollars? When you can say no to a million dollars because you realise you do have enough, even if it’s not lots, that is awesome.”
A representative for Netflix has been contacted for comment.