TV | CULTURE
chewing gum | modern laughter
FEBRUARY 17, 2017
We love seeing weird, wonderful black girls on mainstream TV. Here’s why you need British Ghanaian writer and actor Michaela Coel’s Chewing Gum in your life.
words by: ifeanyi awachie
There's something special about Chewing Gum - and it starts with Michaela Coel. Channel 4 describes Coel's main character as a “religious, Beyoncé-obsessed 24-year-old” navigating sex, family, and crazy neighbors, but Tracey Gordon is so much more than that. The goofy virgin is 24 going on about 16, but she low key makes it look great. We love watching her dance around in the show’s theme song montage, whose bubblegum sound and filter make us want to skip to work, smelling every rose along the way. Also, peep Tracey’s trademark animal sweaters - where do we click Add to Cart? In season 1 episode 5, Tracey’s cousin (also named Tracey) comes on to her, like sexually, and she handles it way better than we ever could. Despite growing up in a repressive Christian household, Tracey recognizes who and what she desires sexually and persistently pursues it. She’s the sex-positive, no-BS-taking, bad-decision-making, loveable next-door neighbor we never knew we wish we had. Indeed we’re feeling Chewing Gum creator Michaela Coel’s portrayal of council estate life (low-income housing for our non-British fam) as aspirational. As The Guardian tells us, “Coel was adamant that, aesthetically and spiritually, [the show’s setting] should not be a depressing place… She intentionally shoots the series during summer,” which casts Chewing Gum in bright, warm light and challenges our preconceptions of so-called lower-class living. The estate feels like a big, fun house where everyone’s always chilling, doing each other’s nails, selling dildos (that episode was wild), and looking damn cute doing it.
Tracey’s mom reminds this writer of her own Nigerian mother, so we loved hearing that Coel, née Michaela Ewuraba Boakye-Collinson, has Ghanaian roots. There’s a moment in season 2 episode 3 where Boy Tracey’s dad visits Tracey’s mom, and the two of them serve us straight-up West African auntie and uncle hilarity. And it’s no big thing beautiful. No exoticizing, geographically incorrect African accents, or corruption/419/email scam-related stereotypes here. Just that satisfying feeling you get when you watch art about a global south culture made by an artist who actually belongs to one. Coel has a lot in common with the star of her show (who she plays), though she and Tracey are clearly different people. They both grew up on a council estate, but while Tracey isn’t really into her mother’s religiosity, Coel was the most religious person in her spiritual but non-practicing family. In fact, she credits becoming Christian with sparking her artistic career. Coel’s mother gave her the classic African parent pressure to work hard in school, and she did - studying English and theatre at London’s Guildhall School of Music and Drama. That's where she wrote a 15-minute monologue that would later become Chewing Gum. Since then, Coel’s show has won two BAFTA awards, a Royal Television Society award, and a Screen Nation award, and has become a favorite of everyone from the New York Times to BuzzFeed’s Another Round podcast to your friends from college. Taking on everything from incest to sex clubs to homeless shelters to racist fetishes, the show goes there - it’ll have you clutching your pearls, shedding your taboos, and laughing so hard you burn calories.
Chewing Gum is currently on its second season. If you haven’t treated yourself to an episode yet, grab someone’s Netflix password, flip to Channel 4, do what you gotta do - you don’t want to miss this sometimes absurd, always LOL-able black African girl magic. Crying with laughter emoji.