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Very Real

Actress Michaela Coel Says She Was Sexually Assaulted By Strangers While Making 'Chewing Gum'

Cole revealed her own personal trauma while giving the keynote address at the Edinburgh TV festival.

British actress Michaela Coel, best known for her work on the comedy series "Chewing Gum" and guest roles on the sci-fi series "Black Mirror," discussed being sexually assaulted by strangers while working on her TV show.

While giving the acclaimed James MacTaggart Memorial Lecture at the Edinburgh TV Festival on Wednesday Edinburgh TV Festival, Coel discussed the attack, which took place while working late writing "Chewing Gum" at the production company's offices in London 

"I had an episode due at 7 a.m. I took a break and had a drink with a good friend who was nearby," she said, according to The Hollywood Reporter. "I emerged into consciousness typing season two, many hours later. I was lucky. I had a flashback. It turned out I’d been sexually assaulted by strangers." 

Coel also discussed the ambivalent reaction that came from her co-workers when they were informed of the situation.

"[Producers] back and forth between the line of knowing what normal human empathy is and not knowing what empathy is at all,” she said. "When there are police involved, and footage, of people carrying your sleeping writer into dangerous places, when cuts are found, when there’s blood … what is your job?"

Coel was able to receive therapy, paid for by the studio, following the attack. She also said that she faced barriers when asking for extensions on deadlines, noting that certain executives were not told about the incident.

Beyond the attack, Coel also discussed facing sexual harassment within the industry, and recalled a time when a television executive propositioned her for sex, according to The Telegraph, a UK-based newspaper.

"Could my silence have encouraged this producer to push boundaries with women and black people further?" she wondered aloud in the speech. "This thought is uncomfortable, but I cannot block it out. I have to face it.”

Coel is set to explore issues of sexual consent in an upcoming project for the BBC titled "Jan 22nd," which was announced the same day as her speech. The show is set to debut in 2019, according to The Telegraph.

"Like any other experience I’ve found traumatic, it’s been therapeutic to write about it, and actively twist a narrative of pain into one of hope, and even humor," Coel said. "And be able to share it with you, as part of a fictional drama on television, because I think transparency helps."

Coel's participation in the Edinburgh Festival as the keynote speaker is groundbreaking. She is the both the youngest and first non-white person to give the MacTaggart lecture in its 43-year history. 

The Edinburgh International Television Festival continues until Aug. 24.

[Photo: Michaela Coel by Jeff Spicer / Getty Images]