‘We are the misfits, open your doors to us’; responding to Michaela Coel’s McTaggart Lecture

Michaela Cole delivers the McTaggart Lecture at the Edinburgh TV Festival

“Being a misfit hurts” said writer and actor Michaela Coel as she stood up at the Edinburgh International Television Festival to deliver the MacTaggart Lecture - only the fifth woman to do so and the first from an ethnic minority background – and though this is important for many reasons, it is her extraordinary creativity that earned her place at that podium.

As a TV writer and playwright (alongside my day job), I admit that I shed a little tear as she spoke - I know this too well. The television industry is hard and, often, creativity is nothing more, in the eyes of producers and executives, than a mere commercial product. For creatives, that isn’t so. I dare say that, at times, the ad industry isn’t so different.

Michaela Coel, famous as the multi award winning writer, producer and actor, is a young creative talent from an immigrant Ghanaian family in Tower Hamlets. Her skin colour, gender, age, and the short time she has worked in television, makes her not your usual MacTaggart lecturer – but that makes it even more powerful and signifies the changing story in the television industry.

Coel’s lecture called out the lack of empathy in the industry, describing the TV industry as a 'house' where she doesn't feel she belongs.

She has reservations about the word ‘diversity’ – “I couldn’t get clarity on it”. She continued to say that broadcasters and production companies have been “scrabbling for misfits, like kids in a playground scrabbling for sweets – not sure of the taste just aware they might be very profitable”.

Instead of diversity, she uses the word ‘misfits’. Her definition:

“The term “misfits” takes on dual notions; a misfit is one who looks at life differently. Many however, are made into misfits because life looks at them differently; the UK’s black, Asian, and ginger communities for example. And there are many other examples. The term Misfits 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. Synonyms; Outsider, Falcon.”

It made me think about our own ‘house’.

I often feel like an imposter - I am young and have relatively little experience. Through my time in this industry, I have worked alongside astoundingly intelligent colleagues who have first class degrees from Oxbridge and years more experience than I - I have not a single A Level or Degree or relevant qualification to my name. The only thing I have is my creativity and my curiosity. I feel incredibly privileged to have bosses, now and then, who have embraced both of these things and given me amazing opportunities to thrive. I have learned from these people and, in turn, they have been my education - and continue to be.

Others are not so lucky.

Coel continued to say “The misfit doesn’t climb in pursuit of safety, or profit, she climbs to tell stories, she gets off the ladder and onto the swings; swinging back and forth, sometimes aggressively, sometimes standing up on the swing, back and forth, in pursuit of only transparency, observing the changes, but wonders if these changes are taking place within a faulty system.”

They aren’t.

Michaela Coel called back to a book she had read called; ‘Act Accordingly’ by Colin Wright – in which he wrote: “There are as many perspectives as there are people.”

She ended her lecture by saying: “We’re all gonna die. Instead of standing here, wishing for the good ol’ glory days, about the way life used to be before Mark Zuckerberg graduated, I’m going to try to be my best; to be transparent; and to play whatever part I can, to help fix this house. What part will you play?”

Working class, uneducated, black, gay, straight, white, Asian - whoever you are. I say to our house - open your doors to the misfits. Protect us, nurture us, listen to us, trust us - we are the misfits and we are defined by our creativity and curiosity.

What part will you play?

Paul Hewitt is a creative strategist at Google

Watch Michaela Coel's full McTaggart Speech being delivered below.

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