"She's Gotta Have It": Spike Lee's New "Feminine" Joint
“She’s Gotta Have It” delivers the technical Spike Lee flavor of the 1986 film but depicts an up-to-date perspective of today's black American woman. The Netflix series chronicles the life of Brooklyn native and artist, Nola Darling as she navigates her way through her own life and the complexities and demands of American culture.
At face value, Nola Darling is a complicated being as she works her way through womanhood, love, confusion, and her career. Nola Darling spends $500 on clothes, lives in New York City, works as an artist, and juggles multiple lovers who fall at her beckon call. The show conceptually harkens back to other series of the like putting the whimsical female artist character up with the likes of a Mary Tyler Moore, Jen Aniston, or Carrie Bradshaw typeset.
However, “She’s Gotta Have It” succeeds where these series do not. Spike Lee presents this whimsical and sometimes farcical depiction of womanhood in a contemporary America after the glitter has fallen and after the rent is due. Nola struggles to find place in the world. She is impulsive and peculiar but it isn't hard to fall in love with her character and find a piece of yourself within it. She struggles with coming to terms with her assault, her own insecurities, and the general fear of being a strong black woman in today’s often polarized and toxic societal standards. The show gives us a “Sex & the City” with a social consciousness.
Lee is able to use this updated depiction of Nola Darling to pick up where his more popular pieces of the 80s and 90s left off. He sheds light on the changing faces of racism, femininity and masculinity, and the pressures that it puts upon American society. He weaves powerful, topical sequences throughout including his music video: “Klown Wit Da Nuclear Code”, expressing the subsequent societal turmoil following Trump’s inauguration. These infused scenes function to make the series nothing short of an extended, masterful art piece.
The show is a blend of stage play influences and Lee’s characteristic documentary and fictional filmmaking styles. He delivers both a story and a visual masterpiece as he interrupts scenes with his signature dollied shots. Nola and the stars of the show deliver performances fit for Broadway equipped with emotive soliloquies and fourth wall breaks.
The show’s only potential deterrent for audiences is its cinematography. When engaging with the series it is clear that the show is anything but haphazard and low-budget. However, at first glance the simplistic filming and set design contrast greatly with Lee’s prominent name in the film world. He interrupts his majorly simplistic series with brief, more traditionally cinematic moments that may be more familiar to audiences’ trained eye for glamor and fancy color-grading. Arguably though, this is not a weakness but a skillful understanding of how we interpret popular television.
The filming is simple and true to reality. Lee paints pictures of real woman and the very real people in her life and cinematic lure not only would do these experiences a disservice but they would simply be unrealistic. She’s Gotta Have it is a refreshing, honest reprieve from the usual glitter and romance of today’s media and hopefully bodes a more realistic shift in our television content. It is Spike Lee's "feminine" joint that you didn't know you need.