The 100 Most Influential People of 2020
Anna Rosova
By Lena Waithe
September 22, 2020 9:34 PM EDT

You don’t just watch Michaela Coel shows; you experience them. With Chewing Gum and I May Destroy You, she takes you on these wild, funny, vulnerable rides, and you never know when the drops are coming. You also don’t care, because they’re exhilarating.

Michaela makes work that forces the audience to grapple with themselves while also taking herself to task. Usually, with Black women protagonists, everyone’s mission is to make you like or root for them. But Michaela shows us that sometimes we can be our own worst enemy. She reminds me that the only person who can destroy me is myself. She’s showing us a piece of ourselves that is rarely captured onscreen.

In my mind she’s a descendant of Nina Simone. She doesn’t need our approval or applause; she’s too busy relishing her newfound freedom. She knows she was put here to make art. She knows she was put here to speak truth to power. Simone once said, “I’ll tell you what freedom is to me: no fear.” Michaela obviously has fear, because she’s a human being. But she’s not afraid to put that fear aside—and to step out in front of those who are still waiting to be free.

Waithe is an Emmy Award-winning writer and producer

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