Why ‘I May Destroy You’ is a Show We All Need to Watch

The many ways in which Michaela Cole's HBO gem speaks directly to and for survivors of sexual assault

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We turn to TV shows for a variety of reasons. The news, to have a laugh, to become engulfed in another world, to learn something new, to be mindless. I find myself falling into all of the above from time to time. And while I don’t actually watch a lot of TV right now, when I do, I’m drawn toward more serious dramas.

I recently finished the series, I May Destroy You, on HBO. All I have to say is WOW. Well, that is not all I have to say, but that was my initial reaction upon completion. The show consists of 12 episodes and follows main character, Arabella Essiedu. “Bella”, as she is called, endures a brutal rape in the first episode, after being drugged and therefore is unaware who committed the attack.

Directly relating to this, and I will caveat to say this series is quite triggering in a variety of ways, my heart immediately broke for her. While I was not drugged, I did not know who my attacker was for an extremely long time. It wears on you, both physically and mentally, the lack of control at times unbearable. Bella endures a roller coaster of flashbacks, erratic behavior, and trying to convince herself she is fine.

As she tries to retrace her steps and recount the series of events from that night, she cannot let it go. Coincidentally enough, she is a writer, and is working on her second book. However, the rape stops her dead in her tracks, and she experiences intense writer’s block. As you can imagine, this leads her down a path of professional destruction as she faces the consequences of missed deadlines and meetings. Her character allows the viewer access into the mind of a rape victim and all the sordid things associated with it.

Among the many beautiful elements of this show, I May Destroy You also brings to light issues of race, sexual preference, and the reality male rape victims face. The show is set in London, and the characters are predominately African American.  It does an amazing job revealing the intricate connections between these topics, while pushing the envelope on the taboo nature of them. It may invoke discomfort, for the sheer reason that these issues are not discussed enough. And that hits me at my core.

Arabella’s journey from rape victim to survivor reminds me so much of my own. The way her mind operates, the consistent letdowns from the justice system and those she thought were close to her, the dying urge to figure out the missing pieces, the sense of empowerment and becoming a new, stronger person. It is one of the most powerful shows I have watched in a long time. And sadly also reminds me of the daunting fact that these issues are more present than ever.

The show bead of life is a unique one. It may not even be on your necklace right now. It may come on and off, depending on its prominence. Sometimes, though, we come across a show that resonates so deeply that it sticks around for a while. And if you’re looking for that, I strongly urge you to check out I May Destroy You. It will impact you in surprising ways. It sure did for me.

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