On Sept. 24, 2022, actor, director, singer, poet, and award-winning playwright, Michaela Coel, took to the Global Citizen Festival: Accra stage in Ghana, the country her parents were born. It was a night to remember with performances from Usher, Gyakie, Sarkodie, Stonebwoy, Stormzy, SZA, TEMS, and Uncle Waffles, as part of a campaign culminating in $2.4 billion to end extreme poverty.
Coel stood on the Black Star Square stage before over 20,000 Global Citizens to wow them with a poem about love. It’s a word we might not be familiar with hearing in activist spaces, but, according to Coel, “we can fight, we can strive, and we can stress and strain to achieve equality but without love, love of ourselves, love of our sisters and our brothers, we’re still crippled and there is still a gaping hole in a society we imagine having peace in. There is still a hole if we don’t have love.“
It’s a universal concept to the human experience, but is love also the answer to dealing with the social issues in the world today, such as gender inequality, extreme poverty, racial inequalities, the list goes on? Well, Coel thinks it could be part of the solution.
We sat down with the multi-talented actor, poet, writer, and Marvel universe character, for an exclusive interview about her poem, what love means to her, the fight for gender equality, and how storytelling and poetry are a powerful tool to address social issues and envision a better tomorrow.
In honour of the upcoming release of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, in which Coel stars, you can also check out our playlist of Global Citizen supporters who feature on the soundtrack and in the movie, from Stormzy, to Coel and Danai Gurira, to TEMS.
Global Citizen: You chose to take to the Global Citizen Festival stage — the home of a global activist movement calling for a better world — with a poem about love. Why?
Michaela Coel: I thought it would be better to do something in my own voice, seeing that i would be the one speaking and on the day I wondered which of my poems might be suitable and I decided to do this one.
I’ve sort of changed it over the years… it used to be.. It’s kind of about God’s love but now I've sort of made it about self-love , sisterhood love, or love for each other. It’s now becoming more about Black women and how we can make better love and have compassion for ourselves.
Why is standing up for women and girls so important to you, and why is the concept of “love” so relevant in the mission for gender equality?
I think it’s not a secret that we live in a very patriarchal system, although things are improving, in other ways things aren’t. I think we can be activists, we can fight, we can strive and we can stress and strain to achieve equality but without love, love of ourselves, love of our sisters and our brothers, we’re still crippled and there is still a gaping hole in a society we imagine having peace in.
There is still a hole if we don’t have love. I kind of think it is where we should begin with anything and everything. My mum tells me she loves me every day and she still does, and I was lucky enough to be in a group of Black women that shared a lot of love, where the world around us was not so loving. And having that group of women made me ready to love selflessly in a world that may not perhaps have loved me back.
So I want to encourage people to love themselves, to love each other, because I know how much that’s done for me.
Why do you think storytelling through poetry and spoken word is a powerful tool to address social issues in the world?
What I love about storytelling is that it has the power to put in our minds a future that doesn’t exist, that we can tell a story and make that an example of a reality that we could all live in and that’s a very powerful thing. I’m not sure how else we could do that.
How else do we present to the world a version of itself that doesn’t exist without reflecting it and twisting its narrative. I think that’s so incredible.
You write “we all need a love like …this.” Do you think the world is missing the love you speak about in your poem? What would a world in which we all have “a love like this” look like?
Do I think the world is missing it? You know, I don’t. I just think we need to remember it and value it. I think it’s already here and we have it and we just need to understand and believe it’s here. And I don’t know how to answer that, what would it look like… it reminds me of that song … imagine all the people... He never answers in that song what that actually looks like.
I don’t know what it looks like but I think it looks like a sense of peace and gratitude and wellness that I have in my heart when I have this conversation, and I don’t know how to describe that, but I think it looks like this conversation.
What perspectives or beliefs did you want to challenge with your poem on love?
Well I am forever challenging a very traditional idea — it’s not even traditional really, it’s colonial — that love and romantic love equals heterosexual love. I don’t believe that, and I don’t think Africa believes that in terms of its traditons. Before colonisation, same sex love was very, very common and very normal.
So I guess I was trying to challenge the new normal, a type of love that religion enforces. I’ve got nothing against religion and I have nothing against heterosexual love, I love men, I love them romantically, blah, blah, but I think the biggest fight against love right now is against queer love and I am an advocate and supporter of that love.
Naturally, I really don’t know why, something in me is constantly compelled to challenge any opposition to the freedom of being queer and loving someone of your gender, or someone who is trans, or identifies as whoever.