It is an absurd reality but the idea of a woman controlling her own body is one that offends many. Thus, the idea of a woman who uses sex, and a cadre of lovers by proxy, as a coping mechanism for her own contemporary realities would be equally off-putting to the hypocritically squeamish. Though the Netflix reworking of Spike Lee’s cult classic film She’s Gotta Have It is first and foremost a piece of art, it is instantly political considering both the historic and contemporary ether within which it takes place.
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Nola Darling is a 27-year-old Brooklynite artist juggling four lovers, hates labels and struggles to make a living selling her artwork. However, her “loving bed” is the center of the universe in which she is god. Her lovers merely satellites caught in her pull. Greer Childs (Cleo Anthony), the handsome photographer/model, Jamie Overstreet (Lyriq Bent), the affluent executive who grew up in the hood but made good, and Mars Blackmon (Anthony Ramos), the humble joker who lives with his sister in the projects and is loyal, are all vying for the affections of the beautiful Ms. Darling, played by DeWanda Wise.
And that, if you have an inkling of what storytelling is all about, is where the “magic” comes from. Wise’s portrayal of Ms. Darling is most believable when she is pushing back against the labeling and objectification she faces for simply being a woman who is living life free of labels that only serve patriarchy.
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Wise plays Darling as almost wide-eyed and ambiguous to the sway she effortless wields over her gentleman callers, gleeful in her decisions regardless of consequences that seem apparent, confident in her femininity with little to no regard for the male ego or privilege, while trying to find her literal and artistic voice in a world that is averse to that very idea. Her version of Nola Darling is intelligent but irresponsible, sexually free but is triggered by the labelling of her as a “freak” for indulging in her appetites.
I read several other reviews prior to penning my own. There were multiple instances in which reviewers mentioned the controversial nature of Lee’s original motion picture from 1986, and how a series about a woman with multiple sex partners isn’t very controversial today. However, that couldn’t be further from the truth.
“Most women don’t feel like much has changed, especially in the United States,” Wise told Guardian UK. “Our bodies are being policed, our choices are being policed and, unfortunately, I don’t think we’re in a better place. I feel like She’s Gotta Have It was super-progressive and ahead of its time back then, and it still is.”
As a man, there are obviously aspects of Nola Darling that I can’t relate to. But that doesn’t mean I can’t be entertained by this series. Visually, acoustically, thematically, She’s Gotta Have It is a Spike Lee Joint through and through. However, unlike the original She’s Gotta Have It film from 31 years ago, Lee brought in a supreme team of women talent, including writer Radha Blank, writer Elsa Davis, sister Joi Lee (who also plays Darling’s mother Septima in the series) and Lee’s wife Tonya Lewis Lee, who also serves as an executive producer.
For a film class final project, I decided to redo the trailer for Spike Lee's film "She's Gotta Have It." My goal for this trailer was to make the film appear more like a feminist film.
In my observation, I’ve found that She’s Gotta Have It isn’t an indictment on male sensibilities at all, but a proclamation of freedom. Despite this, the main character still exists in a paradigm that was cleaved into existence by patriarchy. One in which a random male stranger feels he has the right to grab a woman by the arm as she passes him on the street or call her a ‘’black bitch” when she rebuffs his clumsy, oafish advances as if he was entitled to interject himself into her life simply for possessing male genitalia. Indeed, there are a great number of things in Nola Darling’s life that I cannot, nor will ever, be able to relate to. However, the yearning for true autonomy from the weight of society’s expectations and norms is something that a great many of us can relate to.
As was the case with the original source material, Nola's affections cross gender norms. The character Opal is Nola's fourth satellite. Once placed on the backburner, Opal is once again front and center in Nola's life as she purges herself of male energy. However, it is Opal who is closer to earning her monogamy than any of her male lovers.
Major shout out to De'Adre Aziza for her powerful portrayal of school administrator Raqueletta Moss.
The series burst with vibrant jewels of negritude, each of which is expertly placed at a pivotal juncture in the story arc. Whether it was "Set It Off" by Strafe, or "Between the Sheets" by The Isley Brothers, or an obscure black and white movie reference lost to many modern-day eyes, there was a an artistically-concerted effort to make this film as intelligently yet unapologetically black as possible. No struggle porn, no traumatic back story. Just people living life. In fact, the only main character who is struggling is Nola. Heck, even Mars Blackmon is better with his money than our heroine. The various hues, sounds and influences from the African diaspora were overwhelmingly apparent.
And I appreciated that.
Say what you will about intersectionality and diversity, I enjoy non-traditional storytelling center around characters with which I share similar ancestry. We’re tired of the same old, same old. But this isn’t the same old, same old. Even in a world where we can compare it to Being Mary Jane or Insecure, She’s Gotta Have It stands as its own peer, endowed with its own energy and purpose.