Michaela Coel Turning Down a $1 Million Netflix Offer Is a Lesson in Badassery
Warning: This article mentions sexual assault.
Multi-hyphenate British creator Michaela Coel knows her worth. In a recent interview with Vulture, Coel talked about the process of pitching her series I May Destroy You, which follows the story of a young woman who is drugged and raped after a night out with friends—a story loosely based on her own experience with sexual assault in 2016. After working with Netflix on the shows Chewing Gum, Black Mirror, and Black Earth Rising, Coel brought her new pitch to the company. Even though a $1 million deal was on the table, she decided to walk away—and her reason for doing so is a valuable lesson for us all.
After her initial ask for partial copyright ownership was rejected, Coel went back to senior-level executives at Netflix to ask for at least 5% ownership.
She then asked for at least 2%, 1%, and eventually even 0.5%. The woman on the other end of the phone call said she'd have to "run it up the chain," Vulture reports, but then she said something else that shifted Coel's thinking.
Coel says the Netflix employee told her, "'Michaela? I just want you to know I'm really proud of you. You're doing the right thing,'" and that reassured her that she was right not to compromise.
"I remember thinking, I've been going down rabbit holes in my head, like people thinking I'm paranoid, I'm acting sketchy, I'm killing off all my agents," Coel said. "And then she said those words to me, and I finally realized—I'm not crazy. This is crazy."
In fall of 2017, Coel pitched I May Destroy You to Piers Wenger at BBC and got a very different response.
He replied to her email letting her know that she would have a seat at the table on the production side, full creative control, and the rights to her work. During development, HBO came on as a co-producer. Coel's story is a reminder to us all to always ask for what we're worth and never settle for less. You can watch her series on Hulu or HBO on Mondays at 9 p.m. Eastern.