From the moment the Prince/ Notorious B.I.G. opening track rings out from the television screen, Spike Lee’s electric new Netflix joint She’s Gotta Have It springs to life. After much critique about his “woman problem” in some of his past work — Lee has gotten with the program. Tracy Camilla Johns’ 1986 Nola Darling, which was set against a crisp black and white Brooklyn background will always remain glued in my memory, but the film was ruined for me when our protagonist was viscously raped by her suitor Jamie Overstreet (Tommy Redmond Hicks). I haven’t gotten over it, and neither has Lee. In a 2014 interview with Deadline, he said, “It was just totally…stupid. I was immature.” We are in an age where women – especially Black women are laying themselves bare, and unapologetically demanding to be heard. With guidance from his wife, Tonya Lewis Lee who also serves as an executive producer on the Netflix TV adaptation of She’s Gotta Have It — Lee presents an image of a Black woman who is as refreshing as she is enticing.
Shots Fired and Underground alum DeWanda Wise is center stage this time, delivering a brown-skinned Nola Darling whose the homegirl you love, envy, and are sometimes exasperated with. Netflix’s She’s Gotta Have It is a complicated and multi-angled portrait of a millennial Black woman trying to make in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. Nola’s got her men — Greer Childs (Cleo Anthony), Jaime Overstreet (Lyriq Bent), and Mars Blackmon (Anthony Ramos) all return in vibrant color with new layers and subtle personality changes. However, she’s also got her girlfriends Shemekka Epps (Chayna Lane) and Clorinda Bradford (Margot Bingham), a lady lover (Ilfenesh Hadera) and a bomb ass therapist (Heather Headley). Gentrification is rampant, money is tight, but Nola is living — and how she lives, who she makes love with, and the art that she creates is going to be on her terms.
With a sensational writing staff filled with women like Radha Blank, Eisa Davis, Joie Lee, and the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Lynn Nottage, Netflix’s She’s Gotta Have It is clearly for and by Black women — Lee is the vessel through which the vision is displayed and he masterfully directs all ten episodes. Like the original film, Nola and those around her address the camera and the audience directly. Lee has always worked well with large canvases, like Malcolm X and Crooklyn, his storytelling comes alive best when it’s able to breathe. With a television series, Lee is allotted several hours of space which also gives Wise the opportunity to sink into Nola Darling with poetic dialogue that is full and rich, some stunning costuming, and a #carefreeBlackgirl spirit.
Each episode opens with hashtags like #DaJumpOff and #NolasChoice, and we watch as Nola’s life unveils itself to us. From her acts of self-care to her art — every aspect of her being is a major component of the series. A frightening encounter with a random man on the street during the premiere episode becomes the catalyst for the evolution of her art; the incident also forces her to reflect on the men in her life. There is Jamie Overstreet, a strapping Lyric Bent — an older married, sauvé gentleman who is determined to work his way into Nola’s life even if he doesn’t have room for her in his. For Jamie, Nola represents a sexy, youthful spontaneity that is just out of his reach — something he certainly doesn’t have a home with his wife and son. Still, the security he offers her might not be enough to secure a place in Nola’s heart.
Anthony Ramos’ Mars Blackmon — a role made famous by Lee himself is the most memorable of the men. The Hamilton alum and Brooklyn native puts his own spin on the iconic character as a hilarious but laidback dweller of the Fort Greene Projects. A sneakerhead and Michael Jordan fanatic who lives with his meddling Yoruba Priestess sister LuLu (Santana Caress Benitez), the half Puerto-Rican, half-Black bike messenger makes Nola laugh, but she also refuses to take him as seriously as he wants her to.
For better or for worse, there is the playboy Greer Childs. A self-proclaimed “biracial Adonis,” played by Cleo Anthony who gives much-needed depth to the model/photographer. From the first moment he’s on screen it’s clear that Greer defines the light-skinned syndrome that seems to plague more than a few brothas these days. Still, Greer with his French twang and flair for fashion also surprised me, especially when he attempts to wiggle out of Nola’s fuck buddy zone and into her heart. Did I mention that all three of these men put it down in Nola’s loving bed? Let’s just be real; the brown sex is a major reason to tune into She’s Gotta Have It.
The series is almost perfect, but it does have some snags, Nola doesn’t quite seem at ease with her girlfriends in the way that my soul sistas and I mesh – but their disagreements are real AF which keep the series grounded in reality. There is a hilarious faux reality show called $he A$$ed For It (ala Insecure’s Due North) running throughout the series. However, a storyline involving illegal butt injections was way too far-fetched and even made my stomach bubble. The presence of Lee’s signature dolly shot, the bold cinematography and Wise’s exceptional command of the screen and her character keep She’s Gotta Have It from veering off track. There are even a dope cameos from Tracy Camilla Johns and Lee himself.
More than a television show, She’s Gotta Have It is a stunning encyclopedia of Black culture encompassing art, music, and cinema. Lee sprinkles album covers, movie posters, and art throughout the series. He provides tangible references for his audience to take with them and continue exploring beyond their television screens. Trust me; you’re going to want to download the show’s soundtrack immediately. Another interesting tidbit is that Nola isn’t reduced to a social media obsessed 20-something. Her phone is always present, yes, but social media isn’t. Lee allows her a fearlessness and a presence that others have failed to capture when depicting the mass media generation.
Many of the scenes in Netflix’s She’s Gotta Have It are near mirrors of those in the original film. As is the most infamous Thanksgiving dinner scene. This time, it’s even better — arguably the best episode of the series. Lee presents a powerful finale full of turkey, blunts, the deconstruction of the male ego, and one dope ass picture. Nola and all of her men get together, and the result is as delicious as the feast on the table.
Netflix’s She’s Gotta Have It is the best thing Spike Lee has birthed in years, and it makes sense — after all with a Black woman standing at the center you can’t have anything but a work of art.
Catch all 10-episodes She’s Gotta Have It streaming on Netflix, Nov 23.
Aramide A Tinubu is a film critic and entertainment writer. As a journalist, her work has been published in EBONY, JET, ESSENCE, Bustle, The Daily Mail, IndieWire and Blavity. She wrote her Master’s thesis on Black Girlhood and Parental Loss in Contemporary Black American Cinema. She’s a cinephile, bookworm, blogger and NYU + Columbia University alum. You can find her reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, read her blog at: www.chocolategirlinthecity.com or tweet her @midnightrami