Spike Lee is an innovator. His propensity to color outside of the lines and still produce art worthy of praise and consideration speaks to his talent, his foresight, and his creativity. The actor, producer, director and filmmaker has been around for decades, often facing harsh criticism for his work. Now, in 2017, Spike has blessed us with a re-imagining of his classic film, She’s Gotta Have It. With a Spike Lee Joint, you can expect nothing less than shocking, thought-provoking, realness. But most importantly, you can expect a good discussion. This project is no different.
The original, released in 1986, is a classic, breakthrough film that delivered much needed nuance. Coming off of the 70’s and early 80’s, black characters in movies had previously been crafted around stereotypes and caricatures, as opposed to real people with substance. Lee, a habitual line stepper, was bold enough to explore what it meant to be an intelligent Black woman in that era, who had not only taken ownership of her body, but essentially was able to develop meaningful relationships with Black men who were equally as dynamic.
I have to say, it’s very exciting to have access to a new and improved version of the classic film. Spike’s newest project was released via Netflix on Thanksgiving Day. Since then, I’ve watched all ten episodes twice. Here are 10 of my favorite take aways.
1. Oshun references. Much of the world may have first been introduced to Oshun by none other than Beyonce, when she dropped Lemonade almost two years ago. In her most defiant album yet, Beyonce made many references to Oshun, most notably here: In Spike’s new series, Oshun is referenced constantly. As Nola tries to rid herself of the “negative energy” that surrounds her, she seeks help from Fort Greene project’s very own Santeria priestess, Lourdes (who also happens to be her lover’s sister). Inside the apartment, a number of rituals are performed, including being bathed by the priestess, kissing cowrie shells, and splashing water in an attempt to manifest positive outcomes. Oshun references in this series are very important mainly because of Oshun’s strong presence and beliefs. According to ancient literary works, Ọṣun was the only female irunmole sent to set up the world by Olodumare. The other males that came along were extremely dismissive of Ọṣun. In an act of defiance, Ọṣun gathered the women and protested the disrespect by forming Iyami Aje, a band of women endowed with special powers. Of course, when the men failed miserably, they inquired to Olodumare as to why they weren’t succeeding. Olodumare made it clear that nothing could be done without Ọṣun, and that anything they attempted to do without women would fail. The male irunmole then had no choice but to beg Ọṣun to join them. The symbolism is incredible, when you think about Nola’s character in this series.
2. Rape culture discussions.
In this climate, She’s Gotta Have It and the creative team’s willingness to confront rape culture head on is not only bold, but responsible. This comes right on time, as much of the world is still trying to process what rape culture is and how they or someone they know might have contributed. Throughout the series, Nola Darling is sent reeling after being attacked on the street, and the discussion around victim blaming, slut shaming, and misogyny is relevant and much needed.
3. The Fashion. Can I just say that I really enjoyed seeing what the characters were going to wear? Especially Nola, Greer, and Nola’s therapist Dr. Jamison, played by Heather Headley. Shoutout to the costume designer, Marci Rodgers. You lit!
4. Broad spectrum of Black men represented. I love how different each of the men Nola Darling engaged were. From the high falutin’ corporate guy, Jamie Overstreet, to the ‘Round they Way, homie, lover, friend, Mars Blackmon, each of these men had something to offer, and each of them had their own unique flair. (Nobody has flair like Greer Child, by the way) I appreciate seeing content where Black men don’t exist in a monolith.
5. Papo AKA “Da Mayor” and his importance in the community. I think there’s something to be said about a homeless man being a main character in this series. In many other communities, homeless people are overlooked, shunned, berated. But in this community, Papo, referred to as “Da Mayor” by all who know and care for him, is not viewed merely as a homeless man, but a friend, and an integral part of the community. For me, this speaks to the communal nature of the Black community, and how we often care for each other as a matter of instinct. When the police showed up to haul Papo away, Nola offered herself up instead, (though the officers ultimately ended up taking him downtown anyway). The community stepped in to protect him, Mars assuring Papo that he’d look after his grocery cart while he was gone. This was an incredibly emotional scene, and definitely Spike’s way of revisiting this famous scene in Do the Right Thing.
6. Discourse about gentrification.
When Mars arrives at Nola’s brownstone, he’s met on the stoop by Bianca, the newest white resident in the neighborhood. Clearly uncomfortable with his presence, Bianca felt it appropriate to ask Mars if he lived there.
“No, I don’t live here. But I’m from here. I’m from Brooklyn. The New Fort Greene? This ain’t new! We been here. You’re new. You guys showed up and wanted to part take.” Gentrification is a topic I’m not sure is talked about enough. This scene reminded me of a sign in front of a Denver coffee shop that recently went viral. Of course, since then, people have been calling for a boycott, and rightfully so.
Kudos to Spike for making it plain, and really telling the story from the perspective of the residents of color who are being pushed out.
7. The Soundtrack. Everyone from Frank Sinatra and Brian McKnight, to Me’Shell Ndege’Ocello and Maxwell showed up in this series. It was dope how Spike made sure he incorporated the artists by including a photo of the album artwork at the end of every song. This is probably my favorite though, because…YES.
8. Surprise appearance from the Original Nola Darling. What I love about Spike Lee Joints is that he always throws in a random surprise appearance, and he always makes sure he gives a nod to the originals who put in the work from the ground up. Say hello to the original Nola Darling, Ms. Tracy Camilla Johns. I won’t tell you how she and the new Nola met in the series. I’ll let that be a surprise.
9. Spike calling us out for not having our priorities in order. In true Spike Lee fashion, he takes the time to call us out on our values. Uncle Spike has a knack for making us second guess the things we celebrate in our society. In this series, he calls us out for our love of reality TV, social media facades, and materialism. While done in his typical exaggerated, satirical way, we still got the message with his not so strategically placed show within a show, “She Ass’d For It.” He challenges viewers to take a real look at pop culture as it exists today.
10. Dewanda Wise
Spike could not have chosen a better millennial Nola Darling. What a breath of fresh air. She’s mesmerizing in this role. She’s vulnerable, strong, bubbly, poignant. I’m not sure there’s another actress out there who could have taken on this character with such ease and such understanding. I thoroughly enjoyed her, and am excited to see where she’ll pop up next.
What did you love most about She’s Gotta Have It? I want to know!