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Tag: HBO

Editorials, How Film Changed Me

How Film Changed Me: On ‘I May Destroy You’

July 18, 2020

What hit me first was how the title edits itself. The words appear as if typed on a screen, the blinking cursor at the end awaiting its next command. I May Destroy You. Quickly then, milliseconds before the title card disappears, the cursor backspaces and deletes the ‘you’. I May Destroy. Destroy what, exactly? You? Me? Everyone? Everything? This minor blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment speaks to what makes Michaela Coel’s 12-part BBC series the ground-breaking work of television that it is: it is in detail. 

That, in its way, speaks to the conversations that have evolved around sexual assault. What’s in the detail? The small pieces of DNA that disappear so quickly, the intricate specifics of the assault, and how it all comes together in the mind. The memories of those who have been assaulted are so often questioned, the details of a story might change, and deniers latch onto that as a sign of deception. The fallibility of memory is weaponised against survivors, and the societal shame attached to it used to discourage those who might want to speak. 

In I May Destroy You, Coel plays Arabella, a young writer trying to finish her second book. As her deadline looms she pulls an all-nighter but, when inspiration doesn’t come, she heads out and meets up with some friends in a local bar called Ego Death. It is there, in that cunningly named bar, that Arabella’s life is altered when she is spiked and sexually assaulted. Over the next eleven episodes, Arabella reckons with the trauma of the assault and explores the boundaries of consent. When is it given? In what circumstances is it taken away? How can it be manipulated? In this journey, Coel leaves no stone unturned as the show explores ‘stealthing’, withholding information, rape, and so much more while delving into those commonly discussed ‘grey areas’, which was something that hit hard with me. 

I May Destroy You
I May Destroy You / CREDIT: BBC/HBO

In January of 2014, when I was living in University halls, I met up with a guy from Grindr. We were both back on campus earlier than anyone else, and we struck up a conversation about how quiet the city was without the throngs of students piling into clubs and bars. He suggested we meet up for a cigarette, for some in-person conversation to fend off that post-Christmas isolation. 

Outside my halls, we smoked together. He talked about his friends, most of whom were international students and weren’t due back in Liverpool for another few weeks. He hadn’t been able to afford to go home and so spent Christmas alone in his halls. He became emotional – talking about how hard it had been and how much he’d missed being with people. This was his first time living away from home and each day seemed more laborious than the last. 

He asked if I wanted to go back to his halls. They were a short walk away, and he needed to piss but didn’t want our conversation to end. I agreed under the understanding that I wasn’t going have sex with him – something that I felt I needed to say because we’d met on Grindr. He smiled, sweetly, and said he understood. 

I May Destroy
I May Destroy You / CREDIT: BBC/HBO

In his room, I sat on his single bed while he pissed in the small en-suite bathroom. When he came out, he sat down next to me and said he was grateful that I’d met up with him, that he was feeling so much better. He put his hand on my leg and slowly drew it up my thigh, and I froze. It dawned on me that I’d taken him at his word and foolishly not told anyone where I was going. No one knew where I was and, from what he’d told me, his flatmates hadn’t yet returned. 

He reached over, took off my glasses, then leaned in to kiss me. I made no effort to receive his kiss, my face remained utterly still,  but that didn’t seem to bother him. He kept on pushing, slowly asking more of me – not with words but with his hands, rubbing against me, unbuttoning my jeans – and because I was afraid, I didn’t stop him. 

I knew that what had happened wasn’t within the realms of acceptability. As I got in the lift afterwards, I knew I had been taken advantage of. I questioned everything he’d told me. Was he really alone? Was it all a ruse? Had he actually spent Christmas surrounded by loving family members?  Mostly, I felt stupid and, when I played it back to myself, I saw how it would sound to others. I met a guy on Grindr and did sexual things with him in his bedroom. What did I think would happen? I felt, though I hadn’t seen it yet, I understood that deleted ‘you’. I May Destroy… my relationship with sex, men, and intimacy. 

I May Destroy You
I May Destroy You / CREDIT: BBC/HBO

I told a few friends what happened in the weeks that followed, but it was so hard to find the language to convey how it made me feel. Outside of that, I rarely talked about that night but watching I May Destroy You has allowed me to revisit it over and over. I’ve thought a lot about Terry, played expertly by Weruche Opia, who enters into a threesome that seems liberating only to realise it wasn’t quite as it seemed. She didn’t have all the information when she consented, and thus the consent she gave was rendered moot. I’ve thought a lot about Kwame, brilliantly brought to life by Paapa Essiedu, who is assaulted on a Grindr hook-up and feels immense shame about it – which is fuelled by the response of the police. I’ve considered Theo, a teenage girl abused in various ways, lying about an assault at the hands of another black male student. I’ve wondered about the ramifications of Zain’s exposure as a rapist and his scope for redemption. 

This is the power of Coel’s writing; she explores her subjects without judgement. She leaves room for a viewer to consider what is presented and for them to examine themselves in relation to it. The root of the show was her own experience with assault, and that truthfulness has extended to allow Coel to work from a place that is both radical and empathetic. 

I May Destroy You is bold television; in fact, it might be the boldest. I am already comfortable writing that is the best show of 2020, and there are still five months left. It has, for me and likely many others helped reframe and contextualise experiences in a way that only art can. It has also opened up space for discussion, forgiveness, and light. It also speaks to the broader debate around consent that began with this show and Normal People and will continue with the release of Promising Young Women, and I Hate Suzie later this year. Hopefully, this is a sign of the tide turning. 

In episode eight, entitled ‘Line Spectrum Border’, Arabella walks out into the ocean, seemingly to kill herself, but at the last second, she reappears. She is reborn. She sheds the choices she’s made and the trauma she’s been through and emerges as a different woman. That is precisely what Coel has done to the landscape of television – remade it. Be wary of those who enter post-I May Destroy You; it is an entirely different world. 

I May Destroy You is available to stream on BBC iPlayer in the UK.

Also Read: How Film Changed Me: On Change

Read the rest of the How Film Changed Me series

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Editorials

Five Reasons To Watch Succession

May 31, 2020

Recently I started watching HBO hit Succession and was quickly sucked into a world of treachery, wealth and truly unpleasant people. Here’s five reasons you should watch.

1. It’s Being Called The New Game Of Thrones

Succession Cast  HBO
Succession Cast (deadline.com)

So, I should say Succession is it’s own programme, with its own ideas, but there are similarities. I should also say Game of Thrones is a fantasy programme filled with zombies and dragons and Succession is set in present-day America about a rich family so there are plenty of differences. The main similarity is the struggle for power. The show is focused on the Roy family – Logan Roy is a self-made billionaire and owner of a huge business empire and he has a number of children vying to take over that company. As far as I’ve seen no one has yet murdered anyone to seize power but sometimes it feels like that is definitely coming. In fact, if people start poisoning each other it would feel very much like I, Claudius the masterpiece BBC drama showing the struggle to control the Roman Empire.

2. You Will Hate All The Characters So Much

Kieran Culkin stars as Roman Roy (Peter Kramer / HBO)
Kieran Culkin stars as Roman Roy (Peter Kramer / HBO)

I don’t have if I have ever wanted to punch a character more than Roman Roy (played wonderfully by Kieran Culkin). Not actually evil but smug to the point of ridiculousness when he has achieved precisely nothing. There are two things in particular that incur my ire in regards to Roman: 1- he is unbelievably wealthy and is a dick about it. There are few things I hate more than rich people who love to shove that wealth in everyone else’s face, something Roman does repeatedly. 2. Perhaps, more importantly, the man cannot sit on a chair. Throughout season one virtually every time you see him sitting it’s never the right way. But Roman is simply the most immediately objectionable of a very bad bunch – there’s Logan who seemingly enjoys pitting chis children against each other, Kendall, the heir-apparent business bro, the already mentioned deplorable Roman and their sister manipulative Shiv. The oldest child, Connor, who has decided to stay out of the family business and perhaps seems the most likeable quickly turns out to be not so nice and even Greg, the stoner-slacker cousin is soon corrupted.

3. Fantastic Insults and Swearing

Logan Roy preparing to swear at someone (cheatsheet.com)

Perhaps the best swearing in television since The Thick Of It and while the characters don’t have the verbal imagination of Malcolm Tucker the delivery of each curse is wonderful. You can spend a lot of time admiring the way Logan Roy tells people to “f**k off”. There are no punches pulled when it comes to insults with everything from recovering addiction problems to childhood trauma seen as fair game.

4. Character Complexity

Best friends Tom and Greg Suceesion HBO
Best friends Tom and Greg (polygon.com)

It’s almost impossible to work out the motivations of any character with my idea of every character being rewritten with every episode (with the possible exception of Roman who is just a dirtbag through and through). The two characters where this is most apparent is Logan Roy and Tom Wambsgans. Logan at first seems to have virtually an Alexander the Great plan of succession, wanting to leave his empire to the strongest, but there are moments, glimpses, of when you think he might actually care about his children. Tom is even more fascinating – starting the show as Shiv’s fiancee I was 100% convinced he did not care about her at all, his only goal being the advancement in her family’s company. But as the show goes on this becomes less and less clear and their relationship more complicated. Perhaps even more enjoyable is his bizarre “friendship” with Greg, does he hate Greg? Does he like him? Is he trying to destroy him? Is he trying to mentor him?

5. The Worst Family In America

Happy Family (harpersbazaar.com)

The Roys are undoubtedly a contender for the worst family ever portrayed on television. The siblings are constantly at each others’ throats looking for any potential weakness. At times when Logan asks them to be on their best behaviour to look vaguely normal, they can barely manage five minutes. Another show it reminds me of which has a similarly dysfunctional family is Arrested Development, with some of the characters like Tom, Roman and Greg needing only a minor tweak to fit into the world of the more comedic and silly world of the Bluths.

Also Read: Why Watchmen Is One of The Best TV Series Ever

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Editorials

Why Watchmen Is One Of The Best TV Shows In Recent Times

January 24, 2020
Watchmen TV Series

Let’s start at the beginning. Watchmen was a comic book series written by Alan Moore and drawn by Dave Gibbons and released in 1986. Alan Moore is probably the most respected and critically acclaimed comic book writer of his generation. The comic book is essentially an in-depth look at superheroes with characters in this book as stand-ins for famous superheroes or superhero types. The comic book was so beloved it was listed on Time Magazine’s list of top 100 novels over the lifespan of the magazine. Whilst beloved it was often regarded as unfilmable and certainly Moore had no wish for it to be made into a film. After years of stalled projects and different directors, Zack Snyder released his version in 2009 to mixed reviews. In 2019 we had a Watchmen TV show, brought to us via HBO and Damon Lindelof (best known as the man behind Lost). I’ll say this now – this is one of the greatest television programmes I have ever seen.

The TV Series

Watchmen HBO
Watchmen (source: variety.com)

While some characters from the graphic novel/film reappear like Adrian Veidt and Laurie Blake the central character is newcomer Angela Abar (played in a superb performance by Regina King), a detective in the Tulsa police department. Importantly in this world, all cops wear masks after a coordinated attack on police officers at their homes years before so cops became anonymous and detectives adopted costumes – Angela is Sister Night. The show effectively goes through Angela’s entire life over the course of the season (something it does for other characters in less detail) explaining how she became the person she is. The main plot follows the machinations of The 7th Cavalry, an extreme right-wing racist organisation who seem to want to wage an all-out race-war and were behind the “White Night” when police officers were attacked.

Seemingly completely separately a bizarre story of an old man living a lonely if palatial existence on a grand English estate (that maybe doubles as a prison) is played out, his only companions are maddeningly obedient servants. I don’t think it’s meant to be a secret that this is Adrian Veidt (played by Jeremy Irons in the best performance I’ve seen from him in a long time), one of the characters from the graphic novel whose superhero identity is Ozymandias. As well as being incredibly wealthy and the smartest man in the world Veidt takes credit for saving the world whilst killing three million people – but only a handful of people are aware of this.

Why Is It Great?

Watchmen HBO
Watchmen (source: vox.com)

Characters Are Key

Watchmen is a television show that puts understanding characters first and all the events that transpire are rooted in how these characters would act. It could be said that the whole season is explaining Angela Abar – her childhood, her marriage, her family, her job, her whole life and even events that happened before she was born. All of what happens makes sense, there are no inexplicable character decisions just to make the plot more exciting. And it is not just Angela whose life is analysed, many of the main characters’ lives are examined through flashbacks, such as her costumed cop colleague Wade Tillman/Looking Glass. The single most important thing in any story is you have to care about the characters, love them or hate them, the outcome is important and Watchmen achieved this in spectacular fashion. Rarely have I been as invested in a character as I was with Angela.

Dealing With Loss

Watchmen (source: popsugar.com)

Everyone in this show has lost something – whether it be people or sometimes more intangible concepts. Fitting in with a common superhero trope Angela is an orphan, Looking Glass lost his faith and peace of mind, Laurie Blake lost her superhero identity as well as an actual superhero. Much of the plot revolves around a murder that takes place in the first episode. Adrian Veidt rages against his lost power and influence and when someone as talented as him is going through grief there will be consequences.

Relevance Today

The first scene of the TV show is a portrayal of the Tulsa Massacre, a real event where white people essentially destroyed one of the most prosperous black neighbourhoods in all of America. The significance of this event on the rest of the story is not immediately apparent but slowly comes together across the episodes gradually unfolding, making more sense and not only shedding light on the current TV series but origin stories of characters created in the graphic novel. The 7th Cavalry talk about race traitors, look up to the KKK and occasionally complain about how hard it is to be a white man in America – it is difficult viewing.

A lot of time is spent analysing the never-ending struggle between freedom and security, justice and vengeance. The graphic novel did not like the idea of superheroes a great deal and thought about who actually goes out and beats criminals to a pulp (or worse) and the TV show continues that tradition.

There is also the dive into the worlds of the super-rich, mega-billionaires with resources that eclipse nations and what exactly their motivations are.

The Story

Watchmen HBO
Watchmen (cracked.com)

The intricate story at the heart of the TV show is expertly delivered to the audience, there are plots, secrets, twists, villains and maybe one or two heroes, all of it is fascinating and told in an original and exciting way.

The End

There are many more reasons to watch this show than just what I’ve been able to list in this article and I am sure it will stand up to repeat viewings. And it may well have to as Damon Lindelof has stated he doesn’t want to do a second season and HBO aren’t going to do it without him, So you have just one practically perfect season to enjoy.

Also Read: Why James Cameron’s Avatar Sequel Has Come At The Right Time

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