She’s Gotta Have It review: This Spike Lee-Netflix show's important in the times of #MeToo

Utkarsh Srivastava

Nov,27 2017 11:15 55 IST

In 1986, a film shot over 12 days on a budget of $175,000 launched the career of auteur Spike Lee. She’s Gotta Have It, in its original form, was the story of a black woman juggling three lovers and the tensions it created. It was overtly about sexuality and relationships and the mere premise made it a breakthrough film (which is not to say it wasn’t well-made, because it certainly was).

With its 84-minute runtime however, there was only so much the movie could depict. Lee has sought to remedy that with a reboot on Netflix as he recreates the original as a 10-episode series. The premise remains the same but the extended runtime affords Lee the latitude to venture into art, race, gender roles, body issues, mental health and so much more.

At the centre of the show is Nola Darling, a black female painter in Brooklyn. Nola knows what she wants and gets it more often than not. She has three lovers: the serious investment banker Jamie Overstreet, the quirky man-child Mars Blackmon and the narcissistic model/photographer Greer Childs. She likes them all for different reasons and they are all aware of the fact that she sees other men (and a woman, who might well be the right match for Nola). She also has her female friends whose story arcs form important parts of the show (and also allow it to safely pass the Bechdel Test).

Still from She's Gotta Have It

Still from She's Gotta Have It

The Spike Lee experience

Lee is a divisive storyteller at the best of times. He has been criticised for having a woman problem and his real life actions haven’t exactly been ideal either. You would, however, be hard-pressed to find someone who finds fault with the way he tells the story. From the deliberate framing of the shots to the use of frequent monologues and photo montages, Lee keeps his audience engaged throughout. The fact that four out of the eight writers are women helps the show avoid mistakes like the rape scene and the predatory portrayal of lesbians which were part of the original movie.

Lee’s filmmaking isn’t perfect, however. In particular, the show feels a little clunky while portraying technology. At a time where it is getting increasingly impossible to escape showing text messages or Instagram posts in cinema, Lee’s method of blandly printing the message on the screen or giving a glance of the character’s phone is far from polished. An excellent example of how to do this is Sherlock but there are many, other nice ways to do it.

There are also the hashtags. All the episode names are hashtags for some reason. It simply gives the impression of trying too hard in a place which didn’t need the extra effort. Instant Shazam is also a part of the show as it randomly shows the album cover of the songs playing in the background. This takes away from the flow of the story and doesn’t really add anything to the show.

The social commentary of our times

I still remember where I was when Donald Trump was elected as the US President. I live half a world away, would barely be affected by his policies (although that might change) and yet I was numbed by the news. I could only imagine Americans who would fall directly under his rule felt.

She’s Gotta Have It addresses this shock in a wonderful montage. Set to Stew’s 'Klown Wit Da Nuclear Code', it takes us to different sets of characters who are coping with it in different ways. Some smoke weed, some sit shocked, some rant while some just flat out cry. It is one of the most powerful scenes in the show and gives a peek into just how stunned African-Americans were when Trump was elected.

The show in general doesn’t shy away from social issues. So we see Jamie’s son struggle with his identity as a black child in an expensive school, the gentrification of urban neighbourhoods and police overreach.

Personal struggles too are highlighted. Nola’s struggles as an artist and her rent problems (albeit for a house that is simply gorgeous) are a constant theme in the show. There is also the story of Nola’s friend Shemekka, who wants to get butt implants. Is it conforming to the male gaze if you change your body based on societal ideas of beauty? Or does your right over your own body mean that you can do whatever you please with it?

Essential viewing in the times of #MeToo

After #MeToo went viral, a lot of men started questioning their understanding of the world and how it treated women. Even apart from the obviously wrong things, patriarchal upbringings have rendered us blind to the little things which add up and end up degrading women.

Nola has her flaws and not all her actions are the right ones. She sometimes loses her temper at the wrong things and always wants things done her way. But she does manage to point out so many misogynist things which are part of our societal behaviour. An example of this is her refusal to accept labels like “baby girl” or “sweetheart”. These are things many men consider harmless but Nola’s rebellion against them will make people reconsider them too.

In an episode called #LBD, Nola rebukes her lovers when they imply that her wearing a little black dress was the reason for men aggressively coming on to her or was a plea for attention. This too flies in the face of what has become the normalisation of victim-shaming.

She’s Gotta Have It is not populist cinema. This bears out in the IMDb ratings of both the original film (6.6) as well as the current iteration (6.4). What it is however is an extremely important piece of culture which needs to be watched as much for entertainment as for education.

Published Date: Nov 27, 2017 11:15 AM | Updated Date: Nov 27, 2017 11:15 AM