The actors, who starred together in Coel’s groundbreaking drama I May Destroy You, have spoken out numerous times about the racism they were subjected to at the school a decade ago.
In 2020, Essiedu told The Independent about doing a make-up class where a white teacher didn’t know how to paint bruises dark enough to show up on Black skin, and an incident where a teacher called him the N-word during an improvisation exercise.
“We were all playing prisoners and she was the officer,” he said. “She shouted the N-word and, as the only two Black people in the group, me and Michaela looked at each other in horror.
“It was under the guise of, ‘Oh, it’s an improvisation, I was in character.’ But she wasn’t even in the play, you know, so… that school was definitely not a safe place for Black and brown people.”
Essiedu talked about the same incident in a new interview with The Guardian, and now Guildhall has apologised in a statement, which reads: “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.”
It continues: “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.”
Coel made reference to the same incident during her 2018 August MacTaggart address.
London’s Guildhall School of Music and Drama was ranked the number one UK conservatoire in the 2021 Guardian league tables for music, and as the sixth university in the world for performing arts in the 2020 QS World University Rankings.
Essiedu, whose other credits include The Miniaturist, Kiri, Press and Gangs of London, can next be seen in the Sky series The Lazarus Project.