I May Destroy You: Paapa Essiedu Rejects the 'Violent Erasure of the Black Male Experience Spectrum' by Portraying Kwame

The Root recently talked with show creator and star Michaela Coel about the inner-workings of the critically acclaimed I May Destroy You.

As I mentioned previously, one of the things I love about the show is its ability to showcase a wide range of aspects concerning sexual assault and rape (it’s already impressive enough as an effective half-hour drama/dramedy, but especially tackling this complex material).

Trigger / Spoiler Warning: The following may contain descriptions of sexual assault and rape, as well as spoilers from episodes that have aired in the U.S. up to this current date.

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In episodes 4 and 5 of the series, Arabella’s (Coel) best friend Kwame (brilliantly portrayed by Paapa Essiedu) experiences a harrowingly vulnerable arc as a young Black gay man living in London. On a Grindr date, we see a beautiful display of Kwame’s beautiful sexual freedom and a few frames later, that freedom snatched in a scene involving a rape—a “non-consensual humping,” as Kwame googles later while warring with what happened to him. Showcasing that very dichotomy is what IMDY does best. In addition to that, we’re able to see a sobering example of what it means for a Black gay male to turn to the police to report an instance of rape and the re-traumatization that occurs (especially when the report isn’t taken seriously, as in the case of Kwame).

“There’s a narrow set of examples of Black men that we’re allowed to see on our screens and I think that is a violent erasure of the spectrum of the Black male experience,” Essiedu mused. “Not to say that this is the quintessential, seminal example of what it means to be a Black gay man, but it is a different type of Black gay man [compared] to what we often see on our screens. It’s for us to have, in the general consciousness, a real understanding of what it means to be Black, male, and in Britain right now, it’s important that we see as many examples as possible.”

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“We did work with an intimacy coordinator for a long period of time actually,” Essiedu confirmed. “I had my rehearsal for that [Grindr date] scene maybe four months before we actually shot it.”

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Showing this kind of specific act in this context is especially important, as it further proves how crucial it is to document how consent works as an ongoing process. It doesn’t matter that they had consensual sex prior and it doesn’t matter that penetration wasn’t involved—there is no question that what occurred in that scene was rape.

“It’s the consensual scene that happens before [the sexual assault]—it’s all a part of it and one doesn’t work without the other,” he continued. “You literally hear [Kwame] say ‘no’, ‘stop doing that’, ‘get off of me’ very clearly. You hear him say that and the [other] character (Malik, portrayed by Samson Ajewole) chooses not to respond to that or chooses not to hear that, so you definitely are aware that something non-consensual is happening. [Doubting or questioning that] is the mindset or approach that plays into the hands of facilitating predators and abusers.”

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I May Destroy You airs Mondays at 9 p.m. on HBO.

Staff Writer, Entertainment at The Root. Sugar, spice & everything rice. Equipped with the uncanny ability to make a Disney reference and a double entendre in the same sentence.

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