We are smack dab in the middle of a resurgence of great Black film and television, and thank God btw. Once the itch for more Black stories was scratched with shows like Blackish and movies like Get Out and Girls Trip, we continued to thirst for more. So, it only made sense for a reboot of a Spike Lee joint to come forth in this era. The highly anticipated reboot of She’s Gotta Have It (originally released as a film in 1986) premiered on Netflix as a ten part series on Thursday. I watched the original for a refresher, and binged the ten episodes over the holiday break, and well, I have many thoughts. Let’s jump right in, shall we?
Just to get you up to speed on the off chance that you are somehow reading this review with no prior knowledge, She’s Gotta Have It follows the story of Nola Darling, a 27 year old pan sexual, sex positive, free spirited painter living in gentrified Brooklyn. We follow her life semi documentary style, with faux interviews from her, and the people who purport to know her best. Those people being the three men, and one woman whom she calls lovers, her parents, friends, co workers and therapist. Spike Lee, in his usual preachy, dialogue heavy manner addresses issues like gentrification, Black beauty standards, art, music, police/community relations, Black Lives Matter versus All Lives Matter, how we define Blackness, cultural appropriation, White allies who are too enthusiastic, marriage and infidelity, use of the n word, classicism, and ummm I’m sure I’m forgetting something. But you get it, right? He jammed a lot of concepts into one ten episode series.
Here’s what I’m not here for:
The thing I disliked the most about She’s Gotta Have It, is its protagonist. Nola Darling, like many a young Black millennial woman, is trying to find her power and her sexuality in a world that tells us that having one means you cannot have the other. The two are never to intersect, because people need women to be one dimensional. However, just like everyone else on the path to self realization, she’s draining af. The problem with that is that she leaves a lot of collateral emotional damage in the lives of the people she interacts with.
I initially thought all three of Nola’s male love interests were gay. Especially Greer. I had a hard time accepting that Nola was genuinely interested in any of these men for any reason. The thought of dating three men at the same time who all have the desire to shape you into their idea of who you should be sounds exhausting. This would’ve been more palatable if any of the three guys were an actual catch, but no. You have Greer, who I maintain is sexually fluid, who constantly talked down to Nola. While I appreciate diversity in Black masculinity, Greer was obnoxious, rude, and pretentious. This would’ve been a great opportunity to show a bi-sexual man and a bi-sexual woman dating, but Greer’s personality made him so undesirable. Not to mention that whack ass haircut. Then there’s Mars, whose sincerity and humor make him endearing, but his immaturity, lack of ambition and stability knocks him out of the running. Then there’s Jamie, who you think is a good catch, until we discover that he’s married, and Nola isn’t even the first young woman he’s dated outside of his marriage. Nola’s lovers, despite her supposed rules, are more of a distraction than anything. This was especially evident in the art gallery episode. Here we have a woman who is supposed to be so liberated, and so focused on her art, yet she fumbles a huge career opportunity by being distracted by the men in her life who continued to stray out of bounds. What?
Much of the dialogue was corny, and sometimes unconvincing.
The idea that Nola wants to date like a man is flawed on many levels. We cannot conflate female sexual liberation with dating like a man. I vehemently resent this, because that implies that the way men date is somehow superior, as if they have something figured that we don’t. By common standards, dating like a man means that you act irresponsibly with the emotions of people who have made themselves vulnerable to you. That’s a shitty thing for anyone to do, and shouldn’t be a gendered act. The desire for sex positive women (I think) is to have sex with who they want to with the same freedom from judgement as men. The exploration of Nola’s sexuality from this stance made it evident that this was shot through a male lens.
I found Nola the least sexually liberated and confident of the female characters, despite her multiple sex partners and bi-sexuality (this btw doesn’t equal sexual liberation, as this isn’t as taboo as it was in 1986). Raqueletta Moss, and Opal seemed to have a much better grasp on who they were, especially with regard to their sexuality and assertion in the world. I honestly want to ship Opal and Raqueletta Moss. I was terribly disappointed to see Opal give Nola another chance. She didn’t deserve her.
While I appreciate Spike Lee’s commitment to center the culture of Brooklyn and of African Americans, and to discuss topical issues, he ran into the same problem as Aziz Ansari in the second season of Master of None. You cannot effectively address the multitude of issues facing people of color in a ten episode series. In doing so, we lose some of the story, and the actual focus. For example, I love the movie Imitation of Life, but what was the actual purpose of showing that clip in that scene? Other than to say, “Hey here’s some good cinema y’all should be familiar with.”
I fully don’t understand the Thanksgiving episode. I didn’t get it in the movie, and I certainly didn’t understand it in the series. Nola is just as unworthy of these guy’s commitment, as they are of hers. What exactly is anyone getting out of these relationships that would make them willingly sit down to dinner together, and compete for Nola’s affection? It’s cute that Spike Lee thinks men are that evolved these days, but a civilized dinner punctuated by a dance number would never happen today, or any time in the past. Especially without someone at some point calling Nola a ho, or any other slew of derogatory names. While it is plausible that three men would be willing to be shared by a woman, I find it so very unrealistic that all three men would be dying to get that woman to commit.
Here’s what I loved:
This series is so beautifully shot. The vibrancy of the colors, not only of the people, but of Brooklyn. As my home away from home, it was really cool to see Fort Greene centered in such a respectful and cinematically stunning way. The juxtaposition of the old Brooklyn photographs with the new ones in the intro sequence was a cool way to show how times have changed.
There was a great deal of homage paid to the original film. The original Nola Darling (Tracy Camilla Johns) makes a brief appearance, along with the original Clorinda (Joi Lee) in the form of Nola’s mother. Nola’s loving bed remained the same in the series. I’m sure fans of the original appreciated these nods to the past.
Spike Lee’s random cameo as the old school bartender took me down. That wig! Truthfully, I want a spin off show depicting the life of the bartender and the wig.
The music selections were appropriate, and delightful. I forgot how beautiful a song Don’t Ask My Neighbor is.
I loved Papo Da Mayor. The look he gives Nola in the police station touched me in such a way. He knew that she’d made a huge sacrifice for him, and could do nothing more than give her a knowing closed smile. The camaraderie there was so moving.
The street harassment scene was so triggering, because it was so authentic. I appreciated that Nola’s response to that trauma was explored throughout the series. I also appreciated seeing how inappropriately the men in her life dealt with her trauma.
As non Black as Jamie’s wife, Cheryl tried to be, she still had that bonnet on in the shower. Edges never lie.
I loved Raqueletta Moss’ honesty and candor in addressing Nola. While we’ve seen enough movies of Black women “triumphing” over trauma, her story was a powerful tool to show Nola just how clueless she was.
Spike Lee gon Spike Lee for the culture. I wouldn’t be opposed to seeing a second season, but I would need more diverse involvement in the story telling, and more focus on the theme. As a good friend tweeted: Spike Lee couldn’t decide if he wanted to tell a story about a strong woman who is sure of herself, or a broken woman trying to find herself. Do they have to be mutually exclusive? Not really, but some clarity would help drive the story of Nola Darling a little further.