An outsider perspective on the TV industry exposes its sexism, racism and complacency
In 2018, the actor and screenwriter Michaela Coel addressed the bigwigs of the television industry at the Edinburgh festival. She had been invited to deliver the 43rd MacTaggart lecture, a prestigious spot that had previously gone to Dennis Potter, John Humphrys, Greg Dyke and three Murdochs: Rupert, James and Elisabeth. In 43 years, Coel was only the fifth woman to take the podium and the first person of colour. Not for nothing did the event chair and head of Sky Arts, Philip Edgar-Jones, remark how her presence “makes you wonder what we’ve been doing all these years”.
Coel’s speech is the centrepiece of Misfits, a small book with big ideas that provides revealing snapshots of a career in television from the vantage point of an outsider. Before being invited to speak, she had never heard of the MacTaggart lecture – “Then again, back then I’d also never heard of Depeche Mode or Sarajevo, so no shade to the lecture – it just hadn’t beamed on to my radar.” The success of her debut drama Chewing Gum and its hit follow-up I May Destroy You means Coel has beamed on to the radars of TV viewers everywhere. Even so, as a black working-class woman operating in an industry dominated largely by white middle-class men, she remains on the outside looking in – or, as she designates herself, a “misfit”.