Michaela Coel makes history with 2021 Emmy for writing for ‘I May Destroy You’

A woman in a bright yellow dress holds a piece of paper and speaks into a microphone
Michaela Coel accepts the award for writing for a limited series for “I May Destroy You” during the 2021 Primetime Emmys ceremony.
(Television Academy via Associated Press)

Actor, writer, producer and director Michaela Coel has won her first Emmy for her critically acclaimed HBO series, “I May Destroy You.”

The British drama about a young writer grappling with the trauma of a sexual assault received the award Sunday for writing for a limited series, besting fellow nominees “Mare of Easttown,” “The Queen’s Gambit” and “WandaVision.”

Coel made history as the first Black woman to win an Emmy for writing for a limited series.

“I just wrote a little something for writers,” Coel said during her acceptance speech. “Write the tale that scares you, that makes you feel uncertain, that isn’t comfortable. I dare you.


“In a world that entices us to browse through the lives of others to help us better determine how we feel about ourselves, and to in turn feel the need to be constantly visible — for visibility these days seems to somehow equate to success — do not be afraid to disappear from it, from us for a while, and see what comes to you in the silence. ... I dedicate this story to every single survivor of sexual assault.”

“I May Destroy You” was also nominated this year for contemporary costumes, music supervision, casting for a limited series, directing for a limited series (twice), supporting actor in a limited series, lead actress in a limited series and limited series.

In addition to writing and directing, Coel was also nominated for her star turn in the show as Arabella, who struggles to maintain her personal and professional lives after she recalls being drugged and raped at a nightclub.

Overlooked by the Golden Globes, Michaela Coel’s widely acclaimed limited series gets its first Emmy laurels, more than a year after its premiere.

July 13, 2021

The harrowing drama, which draws on Coel’s personal experience with sexual assault, earned glowing reviews upon its June 2020 debut. Also among the show’s main cast are Weruche Opia and Paapa Essiedu, who landed the nomination for supporting actor in a limited series.

“Incredibly, ‘I May Destroy You’ still manages to laugh, and get laughs, thanks to Coel’s undeniable knack for finding comedy in the darkest places,” wrote Times TV critic Lorraine Ali.

“It’s a brave effort that dares to pair humor with intense, difficult subject matter. The result is a series that’s as intimate and authentic as it is topical and necessary.”

The Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. failed to nominate the HBO limited series, praised for its deft handling of sexual assault, or its creator/star.

Feb. 3, 2021


Coel’s victory at the Emmys comes months after “I May Destroy You” was shut out of the 2021 Golden Globe nominations, igniting a fierce backlash further fueled by a Times investigation of the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. that revealed the organization had no Black voters.

The series later triumphed at the BAFTA Awards, where it received the honors for miniseries and leading actress.