Misfits: A Personal Manifesto by Michaela Coel
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
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Misfits by Michaela Coel is a smart quick read where the actress, screenwriter, and producer narrates her rise in entertainment by recognizing the people she classifies as misfits while also noticing how moths always seem to make an appearance on her journey.
How many other potential artists with stories we want and need have we lost for the sake of financial profit; have we lost to thoughtless education systems, thoughtless nurturing, thoughtlessness? Why are we platforming misfits, heralding them as newly rich successes while they balance on creaking ladders with little chance of social mobility? I can’t help usher them into this house if there are doors within it they can’t open.
The hourlong book starts with Michaela ready to kill a moth interrupting an informal Stranger Things screening in her flat with her friends. Instinctively, she sprays moth killer. Once her friends gag at the odor, she realizes her sense of smell is gone. That same year in 2018, she’s invited to the MacTaggart Lecture at the Edinburgh TV Festival where she not only vocalizes her story but analyzes the elements that propelled her to unexpected stardom.
The author intersects lepidopterology throughout the key moments that contribute to her career in entertainment from dropping out of college a few times to taking a chance on a virtually White theater school, then writing her own play and performing it, and seeing that play become her first TV show, Chewing Gum.
The term “misfit” can be cross-generational and crosses concepts of gender or culture, simply by a desire for transparency, a desire to see another’s point of view. Misfits who visibly fit in will sometimes find themselves merging with the mainstream, for a feeling of safety.
Race and class define the story. The daughter of an immigrant single mother, Michaela attends a youth theater for free. She’s the only Black girl there. As an adult, the lack of diversity remains the same at her theater school. But when she writes the play that becomes the U.K. Netflix series Chewing Gum, she realizes the pattern continues on the industry level where she had to make sure the majority Black cast received the same treatment as the White actors.
During that show, she admits her business dealings weren’t clear to her. She eventually declines that newsworthy million-dollar offer from Netflix for her next show that evolves into HBO’s I May Destroy You. While working long hours on her second show, a night out for a break becomes the impetus for the future award-winning series as she is accosted by a flashback that makes her realize she had been raped. It’s then she finds herself leaning on the misfits she met inside and outside the industry to help her in the healing process and the storytelling process.
Overall, the personal manifesto highlights the author’s most meaningful memories describing where she is now and uses interesting symbolism from misfits to moths. Because of the length and substance, it’s a good choice for readers trying to stick to their annual reading goals or looking for something short and sweet.