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TV/Film Culture cheat sheet: “I May Destroy You,” BLACKPINK, and more

Aug. 31, 2020
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Binge: I May Destroy You 

In I May Destroy You, a show written, co-directed, produced, and starring Michaela Coel, trauma weighs on almost every scene. We see it in protagonist Arabella’s escapism, in her choices, her relationships; we see it more explicitly in the PTSD she suffers from after being drugged and sexually assaulted. Sometimes it’s personified by a figure looming over her bed, which was in a blink-or-you’ll-miss-it scene in the Halloween episode, never acknowledged or seen again. I write in the dark, but tonight I kept turning my lights on, afraid that my trauma would also turn human and be with me in my room. It was a horror that felt personal, a scare I couldn’t quite shake off.

Don’t get me wrong, this show is terrifying only because real life is very much so. The plot is a fictionalized retelling of Coel’s own experience with sexual assault, and the pain and healing she had to go through to process it and ultimately move forward. Trauma, both in its personification and fictionalization, is made tangible, controllable; separate from the self. Arabella, at one point, earns a social media following after outing a rapist, so she becomes a poster girl for victims everywhere—a heavy crown for someone who hasn’t come to terms with her own experience. In trying to rebuild herself, she becomes defined by her trauma.

The show never presents anything in a binary, because that’s how it is in reality—multiple truths can exist at the same time. People can be both good and bad, victim and perpetrator, angry and forgiving. Forgiveness may be difficult to muster for many, but if there’s anything I took away from the show, it’s that maybe the anger is something that will never go away, but our lives will not stop because of it. “I have had to let it go,” Coel said in a Vulture interview (that you should definitely read). “I had to let it go and realize that I was still alive if I let it go, and the trauma did not need to define me. I could let go of the trauma and I would still be here.” Art is where we heal, and I May Destroy You is cathartic in more ways than one.

I May Destroy You is streaming on HBO.

Watch: Yes, God, Yes (2020, dir. Karen Maine)

The Catholic News Service, which I didn’t even know published movie reviews, gave Yes, God, Yes an O rating, which apparently stands for “morally offensive,” and had I seen this just a few years earlier, I would have felt the same. This debut feature from Karen Maine follows sixteen-year-old devout Catholic school student Alice (played by Natalia Dyer, who is perpetually stuck in a fictional ‘90s), and the beginning of her reluctant sexual exploration. She goes on a retreat to overcome her “lustful” urges, only to find out that much like anything else in organized religion, abstinence is a complete sham. 

Unlike other horny teen flicks like Superbad, which uses horniness as a comedic device, this movie relies on the sheer awkwardness of discovering the clit and what it likes. Female (!) masturbation is framed as normal, and Alice’s struggle is more about what her repressed peers would think of her and not whether she’s being sinful. (She once escapes to a lesbian bar and says with a smile, “I used to think I would go to hell for having cyber sex!”) This is a small story—even its filmmaking doesn’t make a big deal of itself, with everything from colors to music being muted—but for Catholic school alums, Alice is vindication, confirmation that, contrary to what we’ve been taught, sexuality isn’t something of which to be afraid or ashamed. 

Yes, God, Yes is available on VOD. 

Listen: “Ice Cream” by BLACKPINK with Selena Gomez

Even if you don’t necessarily seek out K-pop, BLACKPINK’s music is ubiquitous. As one of the biggest acts in South Korea, they headlined last year’s Coachella and have released collaborations with Lady Gaga, Dua Lipa, and now Selena Gomez. 

“Ice Cream” is less edgy than their previous single both visually and sonically, but their use of smoother, bouncier melodies makes this new song feel more focused. And I know I already said this in my review of BTS’ “Dynamite” last week, but the music video’s production is on a different level: while miniature doll sets come to life, it’s a sugar rush oozing with pastels on screen. 

Watch the music video for “Ice Cream” here.