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Date of Birth:
1987-10-01
Place of Birth:
London, England

Michaela Ewuraba Boakye-Collinson, known professionally as Michaela Coel, is a British actress, screenwriter, director, producer, and singer.

She is best known for creating and starring in the E4 sitcom Chewing Gum (2015–2017), for which she won the BAFTA Award for Best Female Comedy Performance; and the BBC One/HBO comedy-drama series I May Destroy You (2020).

She is also known for her work in other Netflix productions, including guest starring in the series Black Mirror (2016–2017), starring as Kate Ashby in the series Black Earth Rising (2018) and as Simone in the film Been So Long (2018).

Early life

Michaela Ewuraba Boakye-Collinson was born in London on 1 October 1987. Her parents are Ghanaian. She and her older sister grew up in London, primarily Hackney and Tower Hamlets, with her mother. Her parents were never married and although Coel lived with her mother, her father stayed geographically and emotionally close throughout her childhood.

She attended Catholic schools in East London, and has said that, during primary school, she bullied other pupils, claiming it was caused by her isolation as the only black pupil in her age cohort. The isolation did not continue into her secondary education at a comprehensive school.

From 2007 to 2009, Coel attended the University of Birmingham, studying English Literature and Theology. She took a Ché Walker masterclass after meeting Walker at open mic nights. In 2009, she transferred to the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, where she was the first black woman enrolled in five years.

She won the Laurence Olivier Bursary Award, which helped her fund her schooling. During her time at Guildhall, she attended the Mark Proulx workshop at Prima del Teatro and took the Kat Francois Poetry Course at the Theatre Royal Stratford East. She graduated from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in 2012.

Career

In 2006, Coel began performing in poetry open mics in Ealing. As she continued to do open mics, she was encouraged by actor, playwright and director Ché Walker, who saw her perform at Hackney Empire, to apply to Guildhall.

As a poet, Coel has performed on many stages including Wembley Arena, Bush Theatre, Nuyorican Poets Cafe and De Doelen, Rotterdam. She went by the name Michaela The Poet.

In 2009, Coel joined the Talawa Theatre Company summer school program TYPT. During her time at Talawa, Coel was in the TYPT 2009 production of Krunch, directed by Amani Naphtali. That same year, Coel released an album entitled Fixing Barbie, which featured her work as a poet and musician. In 2011, Coel released the record We're the Losers.

In 2012, Coel's play, Chewing Gum Dreams, was her senior graduation project at Guildhall and it was first produced at the Yard Theatre in Hackney Wick. The play featured Coel in a one-woman show telling the dramatic story of a 14-year-old girl named Tracey.

The play then went on to be produced by the Bush Theatre (2012), Royal Theatre Holland (2012), Royal Exchange Theatre (2013) and the National Theatre (2014). It received positive reviews.

Coel appeared in the Channel 4 drama Top Boy and has had leading roles at the National Theatre, including the award-nominated Home and the critically-acclaimed Medea at the Olivier Theatre.

In August 2014, Channel 4 announced that Coel would write and star in a new sitcom called Chewing Gum, inspired by her play Chewing Gum Dreams. "C4 Comedy Blaps" were released as teasers in September 2014, and the series began on E4 in October 2015.

Her performance earned her the British Academy Television Award for Best Female Comedy Performance in 2016. She also won a BAFTA for Breakthrough Talent for writing the show. Chewing Gum received overwhelmingly positive reviews.

In 2015, Coel appeared in BBC One drama London Spy. In 2016, she played Lilyhot in the E4 sci-fi comedy-drama The Aliens, which was shot in Bulgaria.

Chewing Gum returned for a second series in January 2017. She also appeared in the "Nosedive" and "USS Callister" episodes of Charlie Brooker's series Black Mirror. She also had a small role in the 2017 film Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

In 2018, Coel starred in Black Earth Rising, a co-production between BBC Two and Netflix, where she played Kate, the main character. She also starred as Simone in the musical-drama film Been So Long, which was released on Netflix to positive reviews in October 2018.

Coel created, wrote, produced, co-directed and starred in the comedy-drama series I May Destroy You, inspired by her own experience of sexual assault.The show launched on BBC One in the UK and HBO in the US in June 2020 to widespread acclaim.

Coel acknowledged refusing $1 million from Netflix after the streaming service declined to offer her intellectual property ownership of her show.

Coel was included in Time magazine's 100 Most Influential People of 2020. She was also named as one of the breakout stars of 2020 for the film. Coel also appeared in British Vogue's 2020 list of influential women.

Furthermore, in the 15th annual Powerlist of the most influential people of African or African Caribbean heritage in the United Kingdom, Coel was ranked fourth for the impact of her work on I May Destroy You.

Personal life

At the 2016 BAFTA Awards, Coel wore a dress designed by her mother, made of Kente cloth. She has said that, like her Chewing Gum character Tracey, she became very religious in the Pentecostal faith, and embraced celibacy. Coel stopped practicing Pentecostalism after attending Guildhall. She identifies as aromantic.

Works and publications

Coel, Michaela (2013). Chewing Gum Dreams (UK ed.). London: Oberon Books Ltd. ISBN 978-1-783-19014-0. OCLC 870600609.

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