Chewing Gum is a TV series both written and staring Michaela Coel. Originally airing on E4 in 2015, I first heard of it a few weeks ago when it was added to Netflix. The programme’s debut on Netflix comes after Coel’s new drama I Will Destroy You was released on BBC in June. This led to one of my housemates suggesting we watch it because it was a comedy about a 20 something-year-old girl exploring her sexuality – so it sounded like our kind of programme!
The show focuses on working-class urban life as it is set in a council estate in Tower Hamlets (East London), centring around 24-year-old shop assistant Tracey who, at the beginning of the first season, is a restricted and religious virgin. Tracey goes on a hilarious journey of self-discovery and sexual awakening, involving numerous failed attempts to try to lose her virginity.
Coel, like Tracey, grew up on an estate in Tower Hamlets surrounded by different people and cultures who influenced her creation of Chewing Gum. In an interview for The Evening Standard, she recalls how when trying to make her way into the world of TV and film she often found herself being “the only person who looked like her” in the room. However, this led her to write a show that would allow black women and girls to see themselves represented on screen. Her efforts paid off, and Coel went on to win two BAFTAs in the category of best female performance in a comedy programme.
After bingeing two seasons of the show in two days, my housemates and I decided to read some reviews and interviews with Coel. It was only then that we found out that Coel often felt side lined by producers whilst filming the show. Moreover, Coel claims the distributor, Freemantle, didn’t let her become an executive producer in the first season even though she wrote and stared in the show. Many black cast members have also given accounts of discrimination they faced whilst on set. This once again shows that the entertainment industry has a long way to go when representing not only diverse black characters on screen but also behind the camera too. This highlights the support needed to be shown and awarded to shows such as Chewing Gum for the industry to change and appreciate the voices and experiences of writers like Coel.
Featured Image Source: Still from Youtube