It's no secret that Netflix's roster of original programming is one of the strongest collections of programming in television — but to only pay attention to those would mean missing their exceptional imports. After the success of shows like Black Mirror and Glitch, Netflix is making itself the American home for the British sitcom Chewing Gum. The show follows a young woman's journey through sex, faith, and adulthood, and it revolves around Tracey Gordon, a 24-year-old religious, Beyoncé-obsessed virgin. With a central performance this strong, new fans will likely find themselves asking, "Who plays Tracey Gordon?"
The character is portrayed by Michaela Coel, an actor, writer, poet, and comedian from East London whose performance history ranges from film to television to theater. At 29 years old, Coel has already crafted a strong resume, but Chewing Gum is the only show that provides a look into Coel's beliefs and worldview. Coel not only stars as Tracey Gordon, but is also the writer of the show that follows the young Christian girl's coming of age — a role for which Coel won the 2016 BAFTA for Female Performance In A Comedy Programme.
In an interview with The Guardian, Coel revealed that much of Tracey's relationship with faith came from her own personal history with Christianity — specifically joining a church-led dance class. "I wouldn’t say that I wasn’t Christian because I wanted to dance, so I just pretended." Through this, Coel eventually becoming involved in faith. "Mum thought I was in a cult, and my sister was scared. Everyone was very worried." Although she eventually stopped going to church, there are parts of her faith she still holds onto. "I still actually talk to God ... I don’t know what [God] is. But I do say thank you for everything."
Although Coel is interested in telling a very personal story, she also has interest in showing estates — the British equivalent of housing projects — in a different light. Coel told The Independent, "I wanted to do that because there's enough of the portrayal of the scary kind [of estate], the whole idea that you have to be careful when you go there ... I go to estates I don't live on all the time."
Coel's career has led her to Chewing Gum, but it's not the only place she has showcased her comedic skills. Coel also starred in the E4 series The Aliens where she played Lilyhot, described by her as a "Webcam girl by night, kidnapper, k murderer, drug dealer, and all things deceptive by day." Coel also makes an appearance as a scene-stealing airport stewardess in the Season 3 premiere of Black Mirror opposite Bryce Dallas Howard. Tracey Gordon may be her breakout role, but fans of Chewing Gum should expect to see a lot more of Michela Coel as she continues to find success onscreen.
Image: Dave King Photography/Netflix