Five flawless times Michaela Coel was the feminist and LGBTQ+ icon we all need

A photo shows actor Michaela Coel wearing a bright yellow dress as she poses for the camera at a red carpet event . (Getty)

It’s the iconic Michaela Coel’s 35th birthday and not only is she one of the UK’s brightest screen stars, during her life and career she’s also been a fierce advocate for LGBTQ+ rights.

Coel has smashed barriers for Black women in the TV and film industry with critically acclaimed works such as I May Destroy You and has regularly spoken up for women and the LGBQ+ community.

From her impactful story writing to Drag Race UK, here’s five times Coel was a feminist and LGBTQ+ icon.

Everything to do with I May Destroy You

No list about Michaela Coel could begin without mentioning her groundbreaking BBC drama I May Destroy You. Written and starring Coel herself, the 12 episode series follows a group of Black friends as they navigate life’s many difficulties and complications.

The series has won an Emmy, several BAFTAs and been praised by many for tackling sexual assault, LGBTQ+ issues and modern life in a nuanced and powerful way. 

Michaela Coel in I May Destroy You

Michaela Coel in I May Destroy You. (BBC/Val Productions/Natalie Seery/IMDb)

The main storyline focuses around Arabella (Coel) who is trying to process and carry on with her life after being raped. We also meet her best friend, Kwame (Paapa Essiedu), a gay man who also experiences sexual assault.

Speaking about why she decided to include rape in Kwame’s storyline she told The Guardian: “It happened to somebody that I know and I had not seen anything about that on television. As if we were all scared to accept that it exists. 

“When I sensed that erasure of somebody’s trauma, of a whole group of people’s trauma, then I feel compelled to expose it in the most transparent way that I can.”

In the series, we also meet Kai (Tyler Luke Cunningham), a trans man navigating the dating scene and the challenges trans people face.

Michaela Coel joined the MCU in the queerest way possible

Speaking of queer vibes, Coel has recently made headlines after she appeared in the trailer for the Black Panther sequel, Wakanda Forever. She joins the MCU as queer Black character, Aneka.

In the comics Aneka is a combat instructor of the Dora Milaje, the elite all-female special forces of Wakanda. She has a romance with Ayo, currently played by Florence Kasumba, so we can only hope to see that plot to come to life on screen. 

Around the time it was first announced Coel would be joining the MCU, Marvel’s executive vice president of film production told Variety: “There’s a lot that we have coming up that I think will be representative of the world of today.

“We’re not going to nail it in the first movie or the second movie or third movie, or the first show or second show, but we will do our best to consistently try to represent.”

Supporting LGBTQ+ rights globally

Michaela Coel has also been politically vocal about LGBTQ+ rights globally. Last year Coel became one of several Black celebrities to sign an open letter condemning the persecution of the LGBTQ+ Ghanain community. 

The letter came after an LGBTQ+ centre in Ghana was raided, shut down, and community leaders came under attack. 

The letter, tagged #GhanaSupportsEquality read: “To our Ghanaian LGBTQIA+ family: We see you and we hear you. We are in awe of your strength, your bravery and your audacity to be true to who you are even when it is dangerous to do so,

“You are loved, you are important and you deserve a safe place to gather in your shared experience.”

Michaela Coel’s ‘dream’ experience on Drag Race UK

When RuPaul’s Drag UK spin off first came to TV screens a stellar line up of guest stars were announced – including Michaela Coel. 

She stunned on the runway in her fabulous outfit and generally added excellent energy to the season, with her feedback, commentary and general love for drag. 

Speaking about the experience on the Graham Norton Show, she said: “It was a dream. I was so chuffed, it’s like I was a kid at Disneyland.”

She also told Drag Race viewers she loves drag because “you have to dare”.

“You have to drop all societal norms and restraints that you have been taught and you  have to dare to embody something higher.”

Chewing Gum became a watershed moment for her allyship

One of Michaela Coel’s most beloved shows is Chewing Gum. Written by Coel, she plays Tracey, a 24-year-old Beyoncé fanatic who realises her ex-fiancée is gay.

The show is a reflection of Coel moving on from her religious upbringing after she realised her beliefs no longer aligned with what she had been taught – especially in regards to homosexuality. 

Speaking to The Independent in 2016 she said: “I don’t believe it any more; I believe that I have worth, but I don’t believe in the stuff that comes with the loveliness [of the psalms].”

She explained it started to make less sense to her after she made close gay friends in drama school.

“The kind of Christian I was – I was a soldier… I was really militant. But I fell in love with those people, and I’d go to church and feel like a liar, so I had to stop going.”

Michaela Coel attends the Soho House Awards. (Karwai Tang/WireImage)

Michaela Coel attends the Soho House Awards. (Karwai Tang/WireImage)

Since then her creative process has always been one of inclusivity, and at a BBC panel discussing diversity in the industry she said: “Whenever I had to write a story that involved the queer perspective, the trans perspective or a gay perspective, I would definitely have to have a conversation.”

“I would literally say to a friend, ‘I’m looking for a Black trans guy that I need to speak to, I’m looking for someone I can talk to about experiences, dating.’

“Even though it might be for a small part, I have to have that rooted in some sort of reality, so that’s what I did and that was really helpful.”