The writer and starring actress of Chewing Gum, Michaela Coel, says “I like making people feel uncomfortable,” and Chewing Gum will do that, as well as make you laugh uncontrollably. The British series debuted worldwide on Netflix in October and has won two British Academy of Film and Television Arts awards, for best breakthrough talent and best supporting actress. I am ashamed to say that I watched the entire season in one sitting. It’s definitely binge-worthy.
Chewing Gum follows 24-year-old Tracey Gordon and her misguided attempts to lose her virginity. In one of her attempts, Tracey looks at posters of Jesus and Beyonce and says, “I need the courage you had to tell them you were the Son of God. And I need the strength that you had to make the switch from R&B to hip-hop when they doubted you.”
In the pilot, Tracey attempts to seduce Ron, her extremely religious boyfriend of six years. The plan has been to “save themselves” for marriage, but we quickly catch on that Ron is not all that Tracey thinks too him. Coel presents human flaws and then blows them hilariously out of proportion. Tracey Gordon is naive, selfish, and helplessly unaware. She gets herself into unbelievable situations, but each misadventure reveals something incredibly real, such as being in an abusive relationship or feeling desirable.
Christianity plays a central role in the show. According to The Guardian, Coel did not grow up in a religious household, but she did find God at eighteen and became an evangelical Christian. Her experience with Christianity ended because she could not reconcile homophobia in the Church. Coel writes Tracey Gordon’s family as a caricature of an extremely conservative and religious family, which may offend some. Coming from a similar household, I find Coel’s writing so believable and real, it almost hurt to laugh.
Despite being raunchy and disturbing at times, the show deals subtly with class. For instance, all of the characters are poor and give a view into working class London culture. Coel herself comes from a single-parent Ghanaian immigrant family, and her mother was a cleaner who obtained a master’s degree in psychology while attending night school.
Chewing Gum has a diverse cast, but the show is not centered around race as a social construct. Britain, although hardly an innocent country, does not have the same racial legacy as the United States. Chewing Gum is a step in the right direction for television, because how can we move on from the past if even our T.V. shows are segregated?
Chewing Gum is like a dark tour into Coel’s mind, but the twenty-minute episodes and brightly colored backgrounds brilliantly disguise it as funny and light-hearted.
Image: Actress Danielle Isaie as Candice and Michaela Coel as Tracey from Chewing Gum; an episode still of the British series. Image sources: The Guardian; IMDB.