Abstract

Michaela Coel's I May Destroy You (HBO, BBC One, 2020) chronicles a first-generation Black woman's struggles in the aftermath of her sexual assault. Set in the United Kingdom, I May Destroy You was well-received by US critics and audiences alike, who rallied around the series as a positive, cohesive, and ultimately feminist example of how a woman productively deals with sexual trauma. These discourses of positive representation used to frame I May Destroy You, however, focus on reinforcing liberal feminist ideals of assimilation, legibility, and respectability in the service of an unexamined “womanhood.” In reality, I May Destroy You uses both plot—as Arabella and her friends attempt to make sense of her rape—and narrative form to deconstruct the identity of “woman,” the term that most television series on “women's issues” and with feminist modes of address have attempted to represent and stabilize since the medium's foundations in the mid-twentieth century. In resisting stable, positive identity categories in a story of sexual violence, Coel's I May Destroy You presents an aberration and an important intervention in a televisual landscape that often relies on access to distinct binaries of male/female, Black/white, and victim/perpetrator to make claims of “accurate” representation—both for sexual assault on television and for women's experience more broadly.

You do not currently have access to this content.