Why Michaela Coel rejected $1 million Netflix deal for I May Destroy You

The Chewing Gum actress challenged a "crazy" deal that would not have allowed her to retain any copyrights - even though she was the creator, writer, director and star.

Michaela Coel in I May Destroy You

Michaela Coel has revealed that she rejected Netflix‘s offer of $1 million for her drama series I May Destroy You, before parting ways with her US agency after they pressured her into accepting the deal – from which they would have received a cut.

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The Netflix offer was made in spring 2017 when Coel first began pitching the idea for a show about consent, and partly inspired by her own personal experience of sexual assault.

However, Coel would not have retained any of her copyright in the proposed Netflix deal. In an interview with Vulture, she recalled asking the streaming giant for five per cent of her rights.

“There was just silence on the phone,” she said. “And she [the Netflix development executive] said, ‘It’s not how we do things here. Nobody does that, it’s not a big deal.’ I said, ‘If it’s not a big deal, then I’d really like to have five percent of my rights.’ ”

After bargaining down to 0.5 per cent, the executive said she’d have to run it by higher-ups. However, she ended the call with, “Michaela? I just want you to know I’m really proud of you. You’re doing the right thing.”

Coel said, “I remember thinking, I’ve been going down rabbit holes in my head, like people thinking I’m paranoid, I’m acting sketchy, I’m killing off all my agents. And then she said those words to me, and I finally realised — I’m not crazy. This is crazy.

I May Destroy You
Michaela Coel in I May Destroy You (BBC)

The Chewing Gum actress eventually teamed up with the BBC and HBO on the project, all while retaining her rights. She left her US agency CAA after reportedly learning that they would received an ‘undisclosed sum’ for the proposed Netflix deal on the back-end.

Coel previously told Radio Times, “I pitched it to [Netflix], they liked it, but niggling in my mind was a desire to retain a small portion of my rights as the creator, writer, director, star of the show – even two per cent of my rights. And they wouldn’t go for that. So, I said no.”

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