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Grenfell fire referenced as Michaela Coel hits out at those putting profits before people

The actress made an emotive speech at the Edinburgh TV Festival.

Michaela Coel referenced the Grenfell fire tragedy during her keynote lecture at the Edinburgh TV Festival, while calling for change in a society she said is focused on financial profit.

The Bafta-winning Chewing Gum actress and screenwriter was the first person of a black or ethnic minority background to ever deliver the main speech at the industry event.

Coel talked about Khadija Saye, a Gambian-British photographer who was on the cusp of a career breakthrough when she died aged 24 in the Grenfell Tower fire.

Tower block fire in London
Khadija Saye died in the Grenfell tragedy (International Curators Forum/PA)

One of the most high-profile victims of the June 2017 tragedy, Saye was due to appear in a BBC documentary which followed her as she launched a photography exhibition in Venice.

Discussing the difficulties people in the media industry face while climbing the ladder, Coel said: “Some find themselves so high their photographs are showcased at prestigious exhibitions in Venice.

“A queen was recognised last year: Queen Khadija Saye.

“But when the narrative of climbing makes others put profits before people; fitting cheap cladding into their tower blocks, what then?”

Speaking on broader terms, she added: “How many other potential artists with stories we want and need have we lost for the sake of financial profit, have we lost to thoughtless education systems, thoughtless nurturing, thoughtlessness?

“Why are we platforming misfits, heralding them as newly rich successes whilst they balance on creaking ladders with little chance of social mobility?”

Michaela Coel
Michaela Coel (Ian West/PA)

Coel said she cannot help “usher them” into the industry “if there are doors within it which they can’t open, it feels complicit”.

She added: “What I can do is be transparent about my experiences, because transparency helps.”

During the lecture, for which Coel received a standing ovation, the TV star also told of the challenges she has faced as a black woman in the industry.

She also claimed she was sexually assaulted while at work, and that it inspired her to write a new TV drama.

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