22 August 2018
Chewing Gum creator Michaela Coel has detailed the painful experiences she endured while working in the industry when she gave the MacTaggart Lecture at the Edinburgh TV Festival (today, Wednesday 22 August).
The wide-ranging lecture covered distressing experiences while working in the broadcast industry.
In the deeply personal speech the writer revealed that she was sexually assaulted while writing the award-winning Chewing Gum. Coel had been working overnight on an episode of the show and went out for a break when the incident happened.
“I took a break and had a drink with a good friend who was nearby. I emerged into consciousness typing season two, many hours later. I was lucky. I had a flashback. It turned out I’d been sexually assaulted by strangers. The first people I called after the police, before my own family, were the producers,” she explained.
Coel revealed that she was concerned about asking for her deadline to be pushed back despite the circumstances.
“Writing felt as though I was cramped in a third of a trailer, a mind overcrowded by flashbacks. I needed to push back the deadline, it was already tight,” she continued.
“I wasn’t sure how damaging it would be to the company so couldn’t ask. I was lucky, someone was transparent with me: 'They won’t offer you the break,' a colleague said, 'that’s not the way it is, you have to take it.' I asked to push the deadline back and for the channel to be informed as to why.”
She also shared the experience of meeting a producer after winning an award for writing. The producer said to her: “Do you know how much I want to fuck you right now?”. She left in a rush and left her plus one behind who later called upset.
“Someone called him a nigger,” she continued. “It was the same man. Could my silence have encouraged this producer to push boundaries with women and black people further? This thought is uncomfortable, but I cannot block it out. I have to face it.”
BECTU national secretary Sarah Ward said: "Unfortunately we’re still hearing of far too many experiences of sexual harassment across the industry. Our recent survey of BECTU members working in media and entertainment found that nearly two thirds of women had experienced some form of sexual harassment, and this rose to 82% for those who are 30 and under. This is absolutely shocking, and totally unacceptable.
“That’s why BECTU and other unions in the entertainment industry have been working with the BFI, BAFTA and other organisations to get employers to sign up to the Dignity at Work principles launched earlier this year.
“We have one very clear message in our industry: this has to change. This will require all of us working together, establishing professional workplaces, calling out inappropriate behaviour and – most importantly – listening to and supporting anyone who has experienced harassment.
“It’s not acceptable, and time’s up."
Read Michaela Coel's full speech here.