Reviews: The “It” in “She’s Gotta Have It”

By S. Christopher Emerson

DeWanda Wise as Nola Darling of the Netflix series, "She's Gotta Have It."

DeWanda Wise as Nola Darling of the Netflix series, “She’s Gotta Have It.”

That’s right… I haven’t finished watching the series yet, but yebo, I’m gonna comment on it anyway… This needs to be said.

Millions of melanated youth came of age and consciousness in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s as hip hop got bigger and Blacker (which unfortunately made it prey to white economic greed) when Spike Lee’s directorial star rose with the original She’s Gotta Have It. Among them was me, who identified with Lee’s intelligent slick block boy and Nola Darling romantic interest Mars Blackmon, who added even more punch to an already quirky independent project. Remembering sneaking to see the movie on Skinemax (‘cuz I wasn’t wild enough to try to sneak into a theatre just yet) and laughing at AAAAALLLLLL the sex scenes and innuendo that I could catch still gives me pleasant thoughts of my innocence being forced to mature in the face of such a jazzy hip hop black-and-white Brooklyn romp as SGHI. And after Tracy Camilla Johns captivated and aggravated all of our loving hearts and enticed us to explore our own sexualities (plural intended), Spike continued on his roll of cinematic success with Black Gen Xer favorite School Daze in 1988 and Do the Right Thing, which was snubbed for a Best Picture Oscar in 1989, but nominated for a Best Original Screenplay Academy Award that year.

Spike’s scope addressed some incredibly relevant issues of our post-Civil Rights, post-Black Power au currant Back-to-Afrika times in our communities. This includes creating healthy relationships, the objectification of Black women, the general Black struggle to overstand and overcome racism, the search for identity by Black youth, cultural sovereignty and understanding just what the hell that means. As Black women in hip hop like Queen Latifah, MC Lyte and Monie Love were turning the heavily male-dominated genre on its side, SGHI broke through with a highly-stylized (now collectively known as “The Spike Effect”) harbinger of a sexual reform movement in our communities.

And even though SGHI boldly challenges sexual double standards among Black folks, I don’t believe the movie was all about sex. Even less so is the series.

I found the Netflix series She’s Gotta Have It (2017) bright and playful, riding on that unmistakably dramatic, caricatured and sometimes stereotypical Spike Lee lens, but also addressing several issues of major Black import. We know Spike, we know the look of Spike’s films and we know how Spike operates. We ALL have some time-honored personal and professional complaints about Spike. But this isn’t Spike acting out of character. As a matter of fact, if the writing had not been so upbeat and athletic, I’d say the messages were heavy handed and preachy. But then again, Netflix series, particularly those dealing with more progressive issues, have been known to be preachy, sometimes literally outlining the issue and defining some of the more academic movement terms. So Lee’s offering is quite in line with the Netflix series motif.

A young director at the drop of SGHI ‘86, Lee’s youth showed in the film’s erratic, yet bold voice; some scenes switch quick, some drag, but most set the stage for some sort of personal evolution, even if that does occur until the film is made into a Netflix series. And while I’ve grown progressively tired of Spike with his last few projects which unfortunately include disasters like Da Sweet Blood of Jesus and Chi-raq, I found his treatment of the series a refreshing reboot of the original; same flair, new, stronger, more savvy and in-depth approaches to addressing issues.

SGHI ‘86 concentrates on sexual double standards in Black communities and spends much of its time prodding at it (aside from the occasional dig at negroes who identify with any and every other thing than Blackness) and simultaneously showing Black men and women themselves. What I especially enjoy about SGHI ’17 is that Lee mirrors the concept and transposes the identical romantic situations from the movie into SGHI ’17, and uses the series platform to expand the challenge beyond just sex and relationships. Damn near every societal norm that is oppressive to Black women can get some in SGHI ’17.

Whimsical chocolate super sistar Nola Darling, played by DeWanda Wise, spends the lion’s share of each of these 10 episodes fielding overtures from her three main squeezes, returning characters Jamie Overstreet, played by Lyriq Bent, Greer Childs invoked by Cleo Anthony and Mars Blackmon rehashed by Anthony Ramos, and later explores a same sex relationship with Opal Gilstrap, played by Ilfenesh Hadera. But these relationships are really just a backdrop for the issues weathered by Black women EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. that many men, and some women, ignore.

The “It” in this new She’s Gotta Have It series REALLY turns out to be any number of necessities in this environment, which Nola sometimes knowingly, sometimes unbeknownst to her, fights to achieve. Ms. Darling wants to create her art and fights to live a life in which she can express herself abundantly that way. She hustles for money and resources to live her best life, and is desirous of being a good daughter and a good tenant to a godmother who is struggling to not get sucked up or sucked in by the looming gentrification of Brooklyn’s Fort green neighborhood. This sista wants real friendship, authenticity and valuable interactions, personally and professionally without being subverted by misogyny or racism or fakeness. And Nola Darling wants freedom- to be and do who she be and do, without crumbling under the weight of oppressive societal or cultural norms.

She’s Gotta Have ALL of It, and “It” ain’t too much to ask.

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