One of the UK’s leading drama schools has apologized to I May Destroy You creator Michaela Coel and star Paapa Essiedu for “appalling and unacceptable racist comments” 10 years ago.
In a recent interview with The Guardian, I May Destroy You star Paapa Essiedu opened up about the appalling racism he experienced while taking a class at the prestigious drama school, the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. Essiedu’s co-star Michaela Coel, who also went to Guildhall, has been open about her experience in the past.
Essiedu described an incident where an improv teacher shouted the N-word during a class, and also said he didn’t enunciate clearly. The actor said the comment was “loaded.” He added, “It so clearly shows a lack of respect and understanding of what the experience is of someone who is in that position, in that skin, in that institution.” Essiedu graduated from the university in 2012 and noted that the syllabus was focused entirely on white actors.
After the incident, the actors didn’t know how to respond. “That was a real ‘time stops’ moment,” Essiedu said. “It was like, surely this can’t be happening. We were so shocked we just stayed in the improvisation, so we were like: ‘No we haven’t got anything behind us.’ We were shellshocked by what had happened and shocked that it had come out of the mouth of a teacher.”
After the telling interview, the school sent a statement to The Guardian, apologizing to the Emmy-nominated actors:
Guildhall School apologises unreservedly for the racism experienced by Paapa Essiedu, Michaela Coel and other alumni whilst they were studying at the school. The experiences he shares were appalling and unacceptable.We have since undertaken a sustained programme of action to address and dismantle longstanding systemic racism within the acting programme, including commissioning an external report into historic racism and a comprehensive and ongoing process of staff training and reflection
We have also undertaken a significant redevelopment of our acting curriculum, including a departmental staff restructure, so that our teaching and learning culture prioritises inclusivity, representation and wellbeing. We understand that this work is long-term and will require sustained commitment to build a culture that is inclusive and equitable for everyone.
Coel had previously opened up about her similar experience at the acting school, where she also experienced blatant racism. “I was called a [N-word] twice in drama school. The first was by a teacher during a ‘walk in the space’ improvisation that had nothing to do with race. ‘Oi, [N-word], what you got for me?’ We students continued walking in the space, the two Black boys and I glancing at each other whenever we passed.”
Hopefully, this will actually inspire schools to take responsibility for their offensive actions.