Last October, Sergio profiled a new British TV comedy series titled “Chewing Gum”, which premiered on the UK’s Channel 4 network that month; Sergio emphasized the fact that the series is created by a black woman comedian, whose routine is generally what he described as “graphic, lowdown sexual humor,” the kind that “goes there.”
That black woman comedian, as well as actress, writer and performer, is Michaela Coel. And the TV series is based on her 2012 one-woman show, “Chewing Gum Dreams,” in which the 26-year-old played a teenage version of herself, as she related past experiences growing up in the working class London neighborhoods of Hackney and Tower Hamlets, with her very religious mother, all while she became very acutely aware of her own sexuality, unprepared for the realities of sex and gender that she would face in the real world.
As Coel said when the TV show launched last fall, she wanted her show to reflect “the sort of life you don’t see very often on TV,” adding that the “sexual naiveté” of the character she plays reflects her own celibacy between the ages of 17 and 22, as a member of what she called “a massive conversion to this very Pentecostal, demon-exorcising church.”
“Psychologically, I was in a whirlwind,” she said.
“Chewing Gum” was both a critical and commercial in the UK, and, in May of this year, would earn Ms. Coel the BAFTA TV award (essentially the UK’s equivalent of the Primetime Emmys) for best actress in a comedy series. Given the well-documented general lack of work available for black actors/actresses in the UK in film and TV, “Chewing Gum’s” accomplishments (even its mere existence, taking into consideration its subject matter and star) are certainly noteworthy.
I just learned that the series is now available for USA audiences to stream on Netflix. There are 6 episodes total, and are all rated TV-MA, meaning it’s not a series for the kids – targeted at mature audiences only for its explicit language and sexual situations.
Sergio summarized “Chewing Gum’s” genesis in his October 2015 post, as follows: After winning a scholarship to the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, where she was the “first black girl they’d had in five years and the only person in [her] year whose parents weren’t homeowners… “Chewing Gum Dreams” was originally conceived as her graduation piece, but after it became a smash hit at a local theater, the play moved to the more prestigious National Theater in London. Shortly afterwards, Coel was approached about turning it into a TV series, however she was reluctant at first of her abilities to play the role on television. But after appearing on another Channel 4 TV series, “Top Boy,” the positive responses she got for her work on that show convinced her that “Chewing Gum” could work as a series. However, Coel doesn’t see “Chewing Gum” as simply about a young black girl trying to find her way to adulthood. She says the overarching themes in the show are about “class and community.” “On my estate, everyone’s different racially but economic circumstances give people a particular culture. I know Tower Hamlets is one of the poorest boroughs in the UK, but I’d rather write about all the great stuff than the misery. I wanted to make the estate a place where people would want to live. I loved my estate!” she exclaimed.
It may only be a matter of time before we start to see Ms. Coel on this side of the pond – as in, American TV and film. Especially if “Chewing Gum” gains a fan base in the USA, which would be made easier since it’s now streaming on Netflix USA.
By the way, another British TV series highlighted on this year that, titled “The Aliens” (poster art above), is now streaming on Hulu. The Channel 4 series, which premiered in the UK in March of this year, is set in a UK in which aliens have landed and are now unwanted immigrants living in a walled off section of town. Coel is one of 3 leads in “The Aliens.” So a double-shot of Michaela Coel for USA audiences; “Chewing Gum” on Netflix; and “The Aliens” on Hulu. Add them to your binge-watch lists, assuming you subscribe to both platforms like I do.
Below, first watch Ms. Coel’s BAFTA TV Award acceptance speech from earlier this year; and then watch a trailer for “Chewing Gum,” followed by a trailer for “The Aliens.”
Here’s the trailer for “Chewing Gum.”
And finally, here’s the trailer for “The Aliens.”