By: Brittney Maddox
Netflix’s She’s Gotta Have It is a reboot of the 1986 film of the same name. SGHI was the film that launched Spike Lee’s career, since then he has become a household name and an important place in pop culture. I recently saw the film at a black film festival hosted in my hometown this past Autumn. The original was pretty boundary-pushing back then, though it by no means is a perfect film. Ever since Antebellum South with Enslaved Africans has been brought to the Americas, black female sexuality has been scrutinized. Black women have been depicted as sexually deviant compared to their white counterparts since their enslavement. Few works of film touch basis on this particular subject. While we are gaining more opportunities for black female creators, the majority of film projects lie at the hands of their male colleagues. This fact alone made me a little nervous, especially after Spike Lee’s trainwreck of Chi-raq released in 2015.
A black woman trying to maintain her sexuality on her own terms is still a complicated topic for many to understand let alone fathom. However, the original film undoubtedly paved the way for shows like UPN’s Girlfriends and now HBO’s Insecure. There’s no shortage of black women getting their freak on. Many people may recognize the popularity of shows like Queen Sugar, Being Mary Jane and How To Get Away with Murder, and how they all display black female sexuality in a varied yet respectable perspective. There’s no doubt in my mind that without the SGHI film, released back in the 80s, we wouldn’t have a place to usher in these types of characters or subjects. So being a fan of the original movie, I was ecstatic to learn about the reboot that came this past Thanksgiving. Despite my initial hesitation, after completing the series I was far from disappointed.
It is no secret that Spike Lee is a Brooklyn fan; the Bed Stuy native does his duty to convey the realistic aspect of it. She’s Gotta Have It brings us to the apartment of Nola Darling, a 27-year-old artist, balancing 3 open relationships simultaneously. This is not different from the original incarnation, however, the 2017 Nola Darling is a bike-riding, natural hair sport’in, outspoken feminist. She reminds me of my peers who share similar traits. Nola Darling is portrayed by newcomer Dewanda Wise. Ideals of black female beauty is at the center of this show as we see this depicted through painted portraits of Nola or women she finds beautiful. It is refreshing to see black female artist characterizations through black female art itself. In some ways, Nola Darling could be viewed as the ‘Manic Pixie Dream Girl’ archetype.
Black female desirability is seen not only through the female characters and how they see themselves, but also how everyone else is perceived. The show attempts to talk about body image through the relationships Nola has with her friends and art. The 3 male suitors who were present in the original film do make an appearance with a modern twist. Jamie Overstreet (portrayed by Tommy Redmond Hicks) is a man who’s having a midlife crisis and problems with his marriage. Greer (portrayed by Cleo Anthony) is an arrogant model and photographer. Mars is a sneakerhead and biker, portrayed by Hamilton’s breakout star Anthony Ramos. All three suitors vy for Nola’s individual attention, while also being fully aware of the polyamorous relationship that they share with her. Unlike the film, the writers tried to not make the suitors the focal point, and instead focused to develop Nola as a character. We get to see Nola explore the varying dynamics of her life as she tries to make it as a millennial artist.
So many of our shows as of late attempt to market themselves towards millennials. They assume millennials are socially-conscious and invested in their communities. While in so many ways it felt that Spike Lee was trying to appeal to the fast growing millennial culture, the writing falls flat. Similarly, I felt the same sentiments with the Netflix adaptation of Dear White People. Although, it should be noted that Dear White People is one of the few shows to address gentrification. In SGHI, sometimes the sex scenes feel unnecessary, and does nothing to aid the story. The need to be “woke” with the non-monogamy, street harassment, and aspects of non-Christianity begins to feel jumbled at times. Hopefully, they take time to integrate it better into the story next time around.
Bad characterization takes away from the show, resorting to tired tropes that pigeonhole what blackness is. I craved for a more realistic portrayal, however, that’s my personal preference as someone who gravitates towards drama. The scenarios at times seemed outlandish, adding to the inauthentic quality. There were moments that felt like they were trying to make Nola Darling this imperfect millennial character that it felt self-important. While I watched the show, I found myself annoyed with her characterization. However, this issue arises with the suitors as well. I think this could’ve been counteracted with more introspective moments with each character.
I see what this show is trying to do and I think it can improve drastically. One of the strong aspects is that it features a mainly black and Latinx cast. While the show operated primarily under the direction of Spike Lee, he only wrote 2 episodes.The music remains ambiguous throughout the series, often woven into each episode with care. I recommend it and actually look forward to upcoming seasons of the show. Nola is up there with Issa and my need for black women to be messy. It’s refreshing to see a black woman without their shit together. I hope this becomes a trope in television over the next decade. I recommend fans of Dear White People, Insecure, and Chewing Gum to tune in it. The episodes are contained in a 30 minute segment for those that need a quick show to power through. As far as content warnings; there’s a lot of sex in this show, so people who are sex-averse should be aware. Also, there’s some misogynistic dialogue thrown around. In terms of queer and trans-affirming, the show does a bad job of portraying non-monogamy. It makes it seem like non-monogamous people who yearn for polyamory are gluttonous with no boundaries. I want to really love Nola but her obnoxiousness can be overbearing. Spike Lee attempted to create a sexy show featuring a young Brooklynite who is passionate and making strides toward her dreams — emphasis on the word ‘attempted.’
Editor: Ammaarah Mookadam
Keshav Kant, aka Mx. KantEven, is a neuroscience nerd turned Creative Consultant and Executive Director of Off Colour!
You’ve probably seen her on TikTok or caught her work on Off Colour's many channels. From consulting on films & shows, manuscript review, conducting interviews, or hosting podcasts & panels, if there is some way to bring sensitivity and authenticity to diversity, inclusion and equity conversations, Keshav will be there.