It is necessary to say that “She Gotta Have It” holds significant meaning to Black American filmmakers and consumers. Debuting in 1986, it was the first feature-length film, written, directed, and edited by the legend Spike Lee. I was born in 1989, so my memory of She Gotta Have It was fuzzy, at best, before I sat down and binge watched the reboot series that was released on Netflix on November 23rd. Even with my almost nonexistent memory of the film I knew that something was missing from the series. So, I did what any cultural observer would do, I went back and watched the original film.
Dewanda Wise is the star of the reboot Netflix series, she is breathtakingly beautiful, and brings a fresh, vibrant energy to the screen. Her version of Nola Darling is a fine artist, who dabbles in collage work as a homage to the original film. She seems to be loved and adored by all she encounters. She is known in her neighborhood of Fort Greene and playfully deflects the negativity associated with her rapidly gentrifying Brooklyn home. While the central theme is still the relationship Nola has with her bevy of lovers, the Netflix series tackles some modern topics such as rape culture, modern beauty standards, gentrification, and viral internet culture.
Nola is a millennial aged Black woman who owns her body and mind, but is still trying to figure out her story. The series adaptation grants a space to go more in depth with what makes Nola tick. You get to see her best friends, neighborhood characters, and her parents in a lens that the film just couldn’t offer. Keeping in step with the cinematic excellence that we’ve grown accustomed to with Spike Lee direction, the series is far less abstract than its predecessor which makes for an easy watch regardless of what your film palette is. Directed and written by Spike Lee, and executive produced by his wife of over 20 years, Tonya Lewis Lee, we get to see a collaborative effort on what they believe the modern-day story of Nola Darling should be.
After re-watching the original film, here is where I feel the reboot missed the mark. It seems that those of previous generations only view millennials as sex crazed, entitled, selfish brats. Nola was compassionate and caring, she seemed to be “good” in nature as a way of balancing out her more negative traits. Her fear of any emotional depth, her constant phone usage during moments of serious discussions, and participation in behaviors or events then wanting to be absolved from the consequences, all made Nola nearly unbearable to watch. The world seemed to revolve around Nola. In a way that common sense and reason seemed to fly out the door for all 4 of her lovers. I’m hoping that a second season brings a more evolved Nola who is looking at self in a way that is not strictly focused on her individuality but also on how her actions affect others.
The 1986 version of Nola Darling, played by Tracy Camilla John, who made a brief cameo in episode 6, was noticeably more mature and seemed far less self-centered on her pleasure alone. John’s Nola was sensual and in some ways more subdued than her modern counterpart. Her focus is primarily on Jamie Overstreet (Who isn’t married in the original film), because Mars Blackmon and Greer Childs are so distasteful that he becomes a standout as the one who could possibly love Nola without attachment or demands of her modifying who she is. Each of her men exhibit sexism and misogyny, but Jamie seems more hellbent on seeing Nola as a person and not an object. As the film progresses we see that Jamie is indeed possessive to the point of violence that resulted in him nearly raping Nola. A scene I wish had been adapted to the series.
Millennial life and ideals tell us that we should be able to explore our sexuality in any form we see fit as long as we’re safe and honest with all parties involved. This near rape scene shows that as much control as we like to believe we have over our sexual situations, an emotional outburst is the natural companion to matters of the heart. We often tell ourselves that operating with no strings attached is fun and light hearted. The truth is, having a sexual relationship with someone where care and concern are deeply exuded but commitment is absent, will cause for a few unpleasant experiences.
Another scene from the 1986 film I wished would have been included in the series is the singular conversation with her therapist. While the reboot also offered a preview of Nola and her therapist budding relationship, no scene with her was as impactful to me as the single scene from the 1986 film. In the original film, Nola’s therapist is addressing Nola’s concern of being “sick” or a sex addict. She explains that excessive sexual behavior will look and feel like other addictions, to which Nola promptly replies “I’m no addict.” Her therapist then moves on to telling Nola that what we all want in this life is love, and that if she really wanted to encompass her full female sexuality she needed to use the sex organ between her ears and not between her legs. A poignant point that seems important in our current era, where female liberation seems to be all about what we put in and on our bodies but not explicitly what we put into our minds.
One tasteful addition I was happy to see, was the relationship Nola had with Opal Gilstrap. I am curious as to why Opal was the aggressor and the same age as Nola in the original film, but played more of a maternal role to her in the series. There was also no sexual relationship between Nola and Opal in the original because Nola is very plainly uncomfortable with being lesbian. I feel it important to note, that Opal’s introduction in the original film came along with what was probably the first definition of sexuality being on a spectrum that many Black people had ever heard. So shout out to Spike Lee for being woke over 30 years ago. Nola and Opal’s modern relationship is a testament to how fluid millennials move through gender and sex. It’s less about Nola being bisexual and more about her being pansexual which is nicely framed but could seem almost obnoxious to a viewer trying to keep up with all the new identity politics.
Overall, I believe the series was well done and offered a fresh take on an old classic. It is both interesting and annoying to see the Lees’ take on Black millennial womanhood. It seems that no matter what we can never escape the idea that we are complex without much acuity. This Nola is for a new generation that may not have any interest in watching the original. She is independent, gorgeous, and gets to take her pick of any man or woman she wants, knowing that they will all love her unconditionally. Nola lives a dream many of us have probably fantasized about, but reality is much more unforgiving and I wish we had seen a little of that onscreen.