Michaela Coel says film industry misses out on marginalised communities | Film industry

The entertainment industry continues to miss out on “incredible voices from marginalised and oppressed communities”, the multi award-winning writer and actor Michaela Coel has warned as she prepares to take on a new mentoring role for upcoming film-makers.Coel’s HBO/BBC comedy-drama I May Destroy You was the most critically acclaimed television programme of 2020. Often referred to as “one of the UK’s most influential women”, she will take a lead role in the new BMW Filmmaking Challenge being launched in partnership with the BFI, offering advice to five shortlisted film-makers.“I had a lot of mentors coming up in this industry and they gave me confidence in my own natural ability,” Coel said. “So for a while I’ve been trying to find a way to mentor people in a safe way, with companies involved and boundaries in place.”Throughout her career, Coel has said she sees her role in the industry as one of telling stories but also of making the process easier for other people – including by improving access and giving them the confidence and space to speak their truth.In her keynote speech at the Edinburgh International television festival in 2018, she spoke about the racism she faced at drama school and her isolation in the industry, urging it to be more transparent and lift up voices like hers that had been silenced for too long.But those issues are still prevalent today, Coel said. “Things have changed in some way, for example I really enjoyed Nicole Lecky’s show Mood, which she wrote and starred in. But I can count those examples on my hands, so that’s not great.“There are incredible voices from marginalised and oppressed communities that have a lot of things to say, and it’s a pity that we’re still not hearing those stories.”Such stories are important because they afford “identification” to viewers, she added. “Other people in those communities can see someone like them speaking, they’ll know that they are seen and that they exist. “It’s really easy to feel quite downtrodden, to feel like the odds are stacked against you, and just seeing a version of yourself, your story or your experience can do a lot to take you out of that mentality.”Coel, who based I May Destroy You on her own experience of sexual assault, won several Baftas and an Emmy for outstanding writing for a limited series, movie or dramatic special – becoming the first Black woman to ever win in the category. But a number of black female stories were shut out of those nominations, with films like Till and The Woman King being overlooked for accolades. To this day, no black woman has been nominated in the best director category.“Woman King missing out was shocking, my mouth was open for ages,” Coel said. “I can’t get my head around it, I think I’m still in shock. So I can’t imagine what it must be like for Gina [Prince-Bythewood, the director], Viola [Davis], Lashana [Lynch], or Sheila [Atim]. I cannot imagine because they made history with that film.”Awards shows, she added, must try harder to put structures and reforms in place to ensure they “don’t fall into the pitfalls of white male supremacy”.Her advice for younger writers was to focus on the work itself. “I know that awards are incredible things, and I’m so grateful for all of the ones that I’ve received. But the real enjoyment comes from the process of making the thing that was inside your womb, the thing you collaborated with hundreds of people on.“I know how making something changes your life. I would encourage any young writer who feels discouraged to know the real reward is the act of pursuing your story. And my hope is that things change. They have to, otherwise it’s really depressing.”One film that did receive a number of nods in the Oscar nominations was Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, the second in Marvel’s afrofuturist film series which Coel starred in alongside Angela Bassett, Letitia Wright and Lupita Nyong’o. Bassett became the first star in a Marvel Cinematic Universe film to receive an Oscar nomination in a comic-book adaptation.Coel said Bassett was “an icon that everyone should consider” if they ever want to work in Hollywood. “She’s probably the most humble woman I’ve ever seen operate. She would just stand on set, kill it and then go and sleep. She doesn’t throw any weight around, she’s so patient, she’s never rushing anyone or asking you what the hell is going on. She’s so giving in every take.” The Filmmaking Challenge will be run through the BFI Network, the BFI’s UK-wide talent development programme. It will provide shortlisted film-makers with access to the latest 8k camera technology and a £10,000 production budget to make a short-form film. One winning film will be selected to premiere at closing night of the BFI London film festival, and all five shorts will be available on the BFI Player.“I’ve experienced receiving notes that have left me feeling totally unsure of myself, paralysed and insecure,” Coel said. “I’ve also had the other version where I’ve been encouraged to continue on my path and trust my own voice. The notes aren’t attacking me, but asking beneficial questions. I would love to be part of the world contributing that sort of engagement with artists rather than that first one.”