‘They tried to exploit me’: why I May Destroy You’s Michaela Coel spurned $1m Netflix offer

Michaela Coel has accused Netflix of “exploitation” by offering $1 million (£725,000) for her television series, I May Destroy You, but not allowing her to own a percentage of the copyright.

The writer and actress turned down the streaming site and took her drama to the BBC, after which it went on to win two Baftas and receive nine Emmy Award nominations.

Coel said she was regarded as “paranoid” and “a crazy woman” when she questioned the terms of the deal, with so much money on offer.

“I remember feeling like people found me disturbed,” she told BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour.

“It’s hard to say to people ‘Trust your gut and follow your instinct’ because it’s not a very useful sentence all the time. But that is what I did in that situation and I’m very glad I did, because in the end, I wasn’t a crazy woman that was acting wild and disturbed and unhinged.

“I was right to observe the industry and observe there was a lack of transparency because there was an exploitation occurring. And if I didn’t press on despite being seen as crazy and paranoid and unhinged, I wouldn’t have got to that truth and I wouldn’t have ended up saying ‘no’ to being exploited.

“And I would not have then had the space to say ‘yes’ to employers who were not exploiting me, who were willing to collaborate with me and listen to me and treat me as an equal. I had to say ‘no’ to the former to make space for the latter.”

Refusing $1 million ‘a cool situation’

Told by Emma Barnett, the Woman’s Hour host, that being able to turn down $1 million was “a cool situation”, Coel agreed: “It’s a cool situation and it’s even cooler if you realise that you don’t need a million dollars.

“I was living at that time in a houseshare with lovely Ash, my housemate, and I had enough food to eat. I did not need a million dollars, which means I can make the decision whether I take that or not.

“What is behind that million dollars? When you can say ‘no’ to a million dollars because you realise you do have enough, even though it’s not lots, that is awesome.”

A Netflix spokesman said: “Michaela is an incredibly talented artist who we were thrilled to work with on Black Mirror and Black Earth Rising among others, and who we hope to work with again in the future.”

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