Did it need to be a book in its own right? I would argue that the answer is yes ... For a start Coel is a gifted writer. The text is razor-sharp and as funny as I May Destroy You, her hit television drama. I devoured her descriptions of life on the estate, where a neighbour would sprinkle halal penny sweets from his top-floor flat ... She is never better, though, than when she’s looking at the industry around her ... There will be those who see this as yet another example of the current appetite for victimhood; they will say that Coel herself is proof that opportunities do exist for those who want them. But that is missing the point ... The speech lacks focus, it leaps from imprisonment rates of black people to corporate capitalism and the tragedy of Grenfell Tower. I would also have liked to know a bit more about what happened next; was she shunned or embraced by execs in the months afterwards? Some of it is very industry-specific, for example her warning that television risks losing its edge...But her central message is astute ... There is undoubtedly a clamour for diversity that stretches from architecture to the media, but too often the efforts to bring people in are clumsy, vague and ineffective. It is not enough for businesses to say they are open to outsiders if they fail to help those outsiders to thrive. Coel was brave enough to say so; perhaps she will encourage others to follow suit.
The structure of Misfits – a manifesto emerging from a lecture on carving out space in the creative industries – puts me in mind of A Room of One’s Own. Where Virginia Woolf insisted on monolithic female victimhood, Coel is more complex on identity and clearer on the purpose of personal revelation ... The register is well judged: precise but unpretentious, conversational without reading like the back of an Innocent smoothie. Coel doesn’t primarily intend for this book to make you laugh, but her formal mastery of humour means you inevitably will. Deadpan is second nature to her – the understatement, the elongated set-up, then the punchline ... Her beginner’s bravado gains credibility from her equal candour about moments of earnestness ... damning on the industry’s handling of racism and sexual assault, and equally so on the broader cultural context. Coel is sharp on the many geographies of London, where the hottest agents won’t cross the river to see her show, and what’s physically close can be social stratospheres away ... True to the form, you’ll be urging it on people. I read it in my local coffee shop and texted a friend who was on a boat in Greece. Misfits could not wait, islands be damned ... Coel’s manifesto does not attempt to be comprehensive or systemic, but it’s clear on what it wants to do and does it very well. I suspect it bears the same relation to the sum total of Coel’s intellect that The Communist Manifesto does to Marx’s. I am very glad both books exist, and hope some day we’ll see Coel’s Das Kapital.
... a small book with big ideas that provides revealing snapshots of a career in television from the vantage point of an outsider ... While the text has been updated and bookended with added thoughts and reflections (including a lengthy and not always cogent metaphor involving moths), this is not a new piece of work. Nonetheless, the problems it exposes – sexism, racism, egregious complacency – remain burningly relevant. That Coel’s original speech didn’t bring about an instant revolution in the industry would surely justify its transformation into a book ... Bringing about change can be a slow business but, in her 33 years, Coel has already achieved more than most. No one else is making the kind of taboo-breaking, paradigm-shifting television that she is, and few have fought as hard, and compromised so little, to create it on their own terms. Coel’s speech was initially aimed at those in charge of our television networks, but for the rest of us it provides a startling glimpse into the mind and practices of a remarkable talent.
The vagaries of displacement and erasure evident in her work can be seen here - her immediate low-income environment enmeshed within the financial centre of Britain ... After closing the book, I found myself thinking: what is the point of this book? You can find Coel’s original lecture on YouTube - and it is captivating, funny, and moving, expertly told in Coel’s richly wise voice. It is a lecture which, at times, has the frisson of a dramatic performance. This book adds nothing worthwhile. There are no new revelations, no deeper reflections ... If Coel used the lecture as a springboard for a fully-fleshed memoir, that would have been more promising. Her life is sufficiently interesting to warrant one. She briefly describes what it was like to grow up as a child of an immigrant Ghanaian mother who worked on weekends whilst studying during the week; but she doesn’t stop and turn it over. We see only glimpses of Coel’s schooling, career, and life ... She emphasises the importance of transparency in the creative industries, yet she doesn’t tell us that the Drama school she attended was Guildhall, or that the company that offered her $1 million dollars in exchange for copyright ownership over I May Destroy You was Netflix - facts which are not particularly sensitive ... Of course, no one should be obliged to disclose anything. And the length of a text is not the measure of its quality. Although Coel wants greater transparency in creative industries, she states in the introduction of this book that when she was writing the lecture she was not aiming for transparency ... But translating a one-hour lecture into a book is nevertheless disappointing. Her lecture works on the screen; as a book it is too flighty. The example of the moth that Coel brings up in her introduction is instructive on the book as a whole. Like a moth, the book flits from point to point in a way that doesn’t justify itself. It instead provokes one to ask: what is at stake here? Why am I reading this? Watch the lecture instead.