Spike Lee’s modernized She’s Gotta Have It finds the middle ground between shows like Insecure and the TV programming of Lee Daniels and Mara Brock Akil.
27-year-old Nola Darling, a through and through citizen of the Republic of Brooklyn, is an artist. A semi-struggling one who, thanks to her parents, has a deeply discounted rent, but can still barely keep up. Luckily though, like many cunning young women, she has many ways to keep her rent paid, not sacrifice her social life in the process, and even keep her therapy appointments.
Her rent? Well, she borrows money, takes a teaching job, sells mousepad sized artwork, and other side gigs. That is, alongside using Jamie’s infatuation with her, and perhaps her work in extension, to get hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars out of him.
As for keeping her social life? Well, that is what Greer is for. They may not go out much, but when they do? Psh, it is in style and of course he pays, as does Jamie when he takes Nola out. Then, even if it is something basic, like your mom and pop shop, like Nola does with Mars, what the place lacks in fanciness Mars makes up for with jokes. Heck, even if you want to talk domestic stuff like Opal offers, alongside her daughter Skye, Nola isn’t hurting for inexpensive things to do, usually on someone else’s dime.
But all of this, her method of surviving life and Brooklyn, it pushes her to therapy with Dr. Jamison. An environment where she can unpack, have her way of life gently challenged, while also figuring out what she really wants. Which isn’t answered by the end of the season, but Nola’s growth is a process.
Changes From Movie: Mars, Opal, Nola Has Friends, Therapy
Before we dive in, let me note there will often be comparisons to the original She’s Gotta Have It. Which I note since it so strongly affects my opinion of this season. So, to begin, I absolutely loved quite a few of the changes put into effect with the TV series. Most of which seemingly was done to fill up the expanded time Spike Lee and his handful of writers were given [note] Shout out to Barry Michael Cooper who retweeted episode 8.[/note].
One of the first major things changed was Nola has conversations and friends outside of her lovers. Clo, for example, gets expanded and while her relationship with Nola is complicated, due to Nola messing around with Mars, it was nice that Nola wasn’t as isolated as in the movie. Also, there is a new character Shemekka, who gets the short end of the stick with her own story, but adds to this idea that Nola can get along with women. There was also this white girl but she ends up just being the token “Good One” you often see in Black predominate productions. I mean, I don’t even know if I took note of her name or appearance, outside of her sitting at the table of Nola’s birthday celebration.
But, jumping back to the Mars comment, another thing very different from the movie version is that Mars becomes a worthy contender for Nola’s affections in the show. Anthony Ramos plays him with the kind of humor, loyalty, and dirty talk, which turns him from the weirdo Spike Lee made him seem, who you couldn’t imagine Nola giving play to, no matter how funny, to perhaps your favorite. Especially since, as Greer and Jamie consistently mess up, Mars remains without a whole lot of blemishes on his record. Plus, with Mars, he seems more on Nola’s level, life wise.
What I mean by that is, Greer and Jamie are clearly older – Jamie is 40 to be specific. And while age is nothing but a number, within legal reason, what stage a person is in their life matters. Nola, like Mars, is still trying to figure out how to be firmly independent and both are working a multitude of things trying to stay afloat. That is in comparison to Greer who is doing very well and Jamie who might have once been in Mars’ position but thanks to his work ethic, and wife Cheryl, is beyond Mars, Greer, Nola, and maybe even Opal.
Speaking of Opal, with Nola being adapted to fit the multitude of titles which have become part of the Gen X/ Millennial generations, her role is also expanded. Especially in terms of Nola being someone open to dating, and having sex, with women and, in terms of Opal, there isn’t much to not like. Opal is perhaps around Greer’s age, so there isn’t a huge age leap; she relates to Nola, since she was similar when younger; she comes with an adorable kid, Skye; with her, Nola doesn’t have to worry about policing herself, like she deals with when it comes to the men; and, best of all, with Opal she just has peace.
Yet, as noted in her therapy sessions with Dr. Jamison, which don’t end once Nola gets uncomfortable or feels a little judged, things are complicated. They are complicated to the point Nola accepts she needs a third party, someone uninvolved, to advise her because juggling all these people is getting difficult. And while, altogether, they make the perfect person, she can’t keep and handle them all. Each one is coming to a point where they want exclusivity and, as one of her friends say, there is nothing more terrifying to Nola Darling than commitment – despite there not being any of the usual reasons to understand why the fear exists.
This Is Gentrification
Gentrification is a consistent thing we’re reminded about in the show. Especially by Nola’s landlord Miss Ella and definitely by Nola’s neighbor Bianca. Someone new to the neighborhood and is the epitome of a gentrifier. Someone who takes no account of the established culture of a neighborhood and tries to force it to change to their desires. As in, there is no mixing or assimilation. You, the people who have lived here for generations, are going to adapt to me. I paid money to have this brownstone and seem hip, so I deserve what I want!
Thus leading to a lot of clashes, especially during a preservation society meeting. One in which she has the audacity to say, “White Lives Matter” while at a podium. Though, what sets that all off is Papo. Someone who is more affected by gentrification than the rest since the culture shields and protects him – especially as a homeless veteran. For while we may not see anyone bring him food or anything like that, we see that despite him being homeless, he isn’t ostracized. He isn’t some dude who has to beg for money or nothing like that. The way most treat him, as “Da Mayor,” it leads you to believe that if he needed anything, he’d just have to ask.
Leading to the main factors pushing people out: The first of which is the rent rising. As Miss Ella notes repeatedly, she could get 3x as much money out of these white folk who want to move into the area vs. what she charges Nola. A temptation you understand for, at the end of the day, Miss Ella got taxes and perhaps utilities to pay. Much less, she got a life to live that requires that rent to be on time.
Setting aside the rent being too damn high, you also got to address what Stokley, Nola’s father, notes: the issue of food, and other services, rising since now there are people who can afford it. Thus making life a bit more expensive for those who may have paid for their homes, maybe live in rent-controlled housing, but now gotta worry about the basics like food going up dollar after dollar.
Making it so, on multiple fronts, your culture, your rent, certain services, food, and just what makes life pleasant, get pushed into becoming luxuries. So you are forced to move to a new area, a ghetto (in the Jewish Holocaust sense of the word) until you get pushed out of there as well.
We All Cope The Best Way We Know How
Assault, especially of the sexual kind, is another big topic within the first season. For Nola, it is an assault, which began due to catcalling, also known as street harassment, that got aggressive and really messed with Nola’s head. Thus showing the long-term effects of the little things men, and certain women, do. Something we really see as Nola tries to regain some autonomy over herself with an expensive black dress. One she can’t afford, is advised not to buy, but as can be seen in documentaries like The Invisible War, there is this need to find some new normal – regain your ability to be comfortable in your sexiness.
Leading to her understanding how much of the blame gets put upon her for the situation. From Jamie to Mars, she listens to how her being alone at night was the problem; this idea that her little Black dress, which isn’t that revealing, is a problem; and it really puts into perspective how much men don’t hold themselves, or each other, accountable.
Though, the one who really hits it home, when it comes to the season’s topic of sexual assault, is the great, say her full name when you reference her, Raqueletta Moss. If shows featuring Black predominate cast got the same notoriety as white predominate shows, there would be more people talking about De’Adre Aziza’s performance. Whether in praise or just making it a meme so that she could live on forever. For listening to her story about being sold by her mother yet rising to now being a principal, it is inspiring. Especially as the show doesn’t let her eccentric ways, such as referring to herself in the 3rd person, just be some silly little thing. It gets broken down so that you can get it.
Heck, even Nola takes on how Raqueletta Moss copes despite the life she has had, which doesn’t seem to have included the kind of therapy Nola has, she made it. On her own, she figured out a way to cope, like many Black women do, without the kind of support and empathy given to other races and genders. After all, someone had to make sure she survived.
While very much rooted in Blackness, the experience isn’t limited to which one would consider “Black urban culture.” Jamie and Greer, as well as Jamie’s son Virgil, are prime examples. For Jamie, he is someone who went from the projects to the suburbs. With that, he has the ability to code switch and sort of lives in two worlds. One of which contains everything from his current life yet then Nola allows him to tap into that urban side.
A side of him he doesn’t put down and dismiss, like his wife Cheryl, but still is quite proud of and loves that he survived. Much less, certain aspects of the culture, like the vernacular and music, is still very much his own and he wants to share that. Which you can see is something he’d love to do with his son but Cheryl blocks that. So there comes Nola who is able to give him what Cheryl can’t. The ability to be this suited up, respectable, Cosby Show™ Black man, while also being this dude from the hood who rocks to Jay-Z and can fathom how art inspired his lyrics.
Then with Greer, being that he is of a white French mother and former Black Panther, African American dad, he also lives with a sort of double consciousness. He has pride in his Blackness yet doesn’t wish to disavow all his mother is either. And, once more, Nola gives him the validity of addressing both sides to his person in a productive way. As well as challenge him to note some things about his beliefs which are problematic.
But again, it isn’t necessarily the main characters but the ones who appear for but a few episodes which really hit the points of She’s Gotta Have It home. In this case, it is Jamie’s son Virgil who is this high yellow Black kid who has parents like Cheryl and Jamie. Also, to add onto the complexities of his life, he goes to a school where he is an unquestionable minority. However, unlike some Black kids with nearly all white friends, there is this desire to seek validation and his own authentic Blackness vs. just foregoing his culture for the majority. Making for some very interesting conversations with how skin color, parentage, and social class affects Black people, solely men in this show, when it comes to various situations.
Men Ain’t S***
A lot of guys take offense to this statement, since it is a blanket statement. However, one thing this series shows is that statement can apply for various reasons. With Jamie, he ain’t sugar, honey, and a side of ice tea, because every two years he finds someone new to be his mistress. All the while, he still stays with his wife and does just enough to stay in her good graces. Yet, there are still bits of him which show he is a decent man. I mean, look at the relationship he has with his son. But, even with that in mind, he ain’t s***.
Then with Greer, as sweet as he can be, beneath all that ego, he still violates Nola’s ability to say “No” and accept that as an answer. Also, he uses terms he knows could rile up Nola, like calling her a freak or sex addict, just to get a reaction out of her. And in many ways, sometimes it does seem like he enjoys flaring up her emotions in hopes it may lead to wild sex vs. him getting to know where the line is so he doesn’t accidentally cross it.
Lastly, though we could also bring up how Nola’s dad ain’t s***; how Winny, Jamie’s business partner, and Shemekka’s boss ain’t s***; and a few others, we’ll focus on Mars. He is the closest thing to being an exception. If only because his sole major sin against Nola is failing the little black dress test. Which he fails by saying that was a factor in why she was made uncomfortable that night they went out.
Now, why is this a topic under highlights? Well, because it shows how complex of a statement “Men ain’t s***” can be. No matter the background or what you did, it is the simplest way men get held accountable and are forced to reflect on what they do which can negatively affect another’s life.
Let me be clear, it isn’t the character Shemekka herself which is the problem but what is done with the character. What starts off as this around the way girl you feel for since we get to see her sensitive and vulnerable side, becomes this woman seemingly used to make hotep type points. Like loving your body and not getting ass shots. Which pretty much summarizes her entire storyline.
No, we don’t see her ex and the woman he loves who got the kind of ass Shemekka wants. We also don’t see her and her mom interact and get yet another taste of how multi-faceted Black culture is. All we get is a storyline about how, just because she doesn’t have a big ass, she can’t make that good money at the club she works at.
Which is so frustrating since how often do you really see, outside of movies, Black women talking about inadequacies they feel about their body? Hair, fairly consistently but their bodies? Especially the expectations of full lips, fat behind, and all that? Not so much.
LGBT Exist, But Only To Avoid Criticism
You know how a lot of shows will feature nothing but white characters and then get called out on it? Especially when the show takes place in a city, like New York, which is fairly diverse? To me, the appearances of Terrell and Opal is similar to Nola’s white neighbor and friend. The LGBT community isn’t necessarily there to be explored but just seen so that it marks off one less thing to be criticized for.
Which becomes a bit of a problem since Nola and Opal are arguably She’s Gotta Have It’s OTP. Yet the show changing Nola to be open to queer sex and relationships isn’t really explored or taken seriously. Nothing about being a queer, whether you are like Nola and are open to anyone or like Opal or Terrell and are just into your own gender, really gets explored outside of episode 4. Which seemed a bit weird since we get so much of Jamie, Greer, and Mars, in terms of their lives and culture, yet Opal is just around.
On The Fence
Changes From Movie: Greer, Jamie, Clo
Starting with Clo, as noted, I appreciate Nola having friends in the series. However, Clo is made into such an aggravating character that I can only understand her and Nola’s relationship through the lens of networking. For if you minus Clo’s connections, which got Nola into an art show she was underqualified for, what do they have? I mean, could we all use a bougie friend like Clo? Maybe. However, it is hard to understand what makes Clo such a go-to person for Nola’s when dealing with personal issues.
Then there is Greer. In the movie, you at least understood, from the get-go, why Nola was into Greer. He was the one who exposed her to new things and was also her exercise partner. In the show however, outside of a big dick, half the time she seems over this man’s ego. Especially when it comes to him being light skinned and light eyed. And while, yes, he becomes tolerable as time goes on, he rarely is elevated past someone Nola seemingly just enjoys sex with, That is, if during their conversations, he doesn’t say something to turn her off.
But the most devastating thing with the TV adaptation is Jamie. In the movie, minus this rape-like scene, Jamie was in the position Opal and Mars are in the show. Just with him having no real competition. However, in the show, he is taken down several notches. First with him being married, then it being noted he is a serial cheater, but to make matters worse, they pair his storyline with Winny and imply Winny possibly did a bid for Jamie.
Now, they did help him recover his character through his son, but I still found myself weeping over how he was changed. Especially with the omittance of how Jamie met Nola in the movie version and the dance performance birthday gift. Though, you know, they can’t replicate everything.
To put it simply, there is a good chance you will get tired of Nola Darling at some point. Making it so the main reason you’ll probably stick around is either because you have fallen for one of her lovers, or in some way want to see her or Jamie get their well-deserved comeuppance. For while you see Nola is made out to be this rich and complex character, there comes a point where you feel she, and perhaps the show as a whole, is doing too much. Similar to The Carmichael Show, but with more focus and more hits than misses, it wants to bring up a multitude of topics which could be relevant to a woman like Nola.
Some of which, like street harassment, being assaulted, and gentrification, get dug into deeply. Meanwhile, other topics like Nola’s queer identity get thrown out there for brownie points, if not to start a conversation the show itself doesn’t want to develop that much. Making it where you sometimes feel like Nola is but a Trojan Horse to characters you could actually connect with since they are real people while Nola is acting as some sort of catch-all.
Overall: Mixed (Stick Around)
As Black folks, or those who have an interest in Black culture, get more diversity in terms of their depictions, it makes the praise that She’s Gotta Have It would get two to three years ago not exist. No longer can it get some kind of pedestal because it lacks contemporaries. Nope, we got Insecure, Dear White People, Chewing Gum and many others. That is before you even bring up the hundreds of web series floating out there. Some probably inspired by the movie this is based on.
Which leads to why this is being labeled as mixed. While She’s Gotta Have It is enjoyable, and generally the changes made are acceptable, what notoriety this show could have is lost because it seems has this weird antiquated outlook. In many ways, the way She’s Gotta Have It tries to represent so many different facets of Black and Brown people makes it seem like there is this fear this will be the first and last show of its kind. So what choice does it have but to cram all these stories into 10 episodes and hope for a second season to revisit topics it just acknowledged but moved on from?
Has Another Season Been Confirmed?: Spike Lee is for it, per a Bustle article, but Netflix has yet to announce anything.
|She’s Gotta Have It proves not all remakes/ modern updates deserve a side eye. For some are eternal and worth updating so each generation can have their unique connection.|
|We have a proper introduction to Nola’s friend Shemekka and see the trauma left by Nola’s encounter with an overly aggressive guy.|
|It’s time for a test. A test to see if the men in Nola’s life can handle a little black dress and all the power it gives Nola. The kind men seem to want to take away.|
|Opal finally appears in She’s Gotta Have It and has certainly the makings of becoming the choice partner for Nola.|
|Jamie and, strangely, Ms. Raqueletta Moss take center stage and Ms. Moss becomes another example of a voice seldom heard.|
|It’s time for Clo’s art showcase and it leads to one awkward moment after another for Nola. Also, Shemekka makes her debut on Win’s stage.|
|We dive deeper into the beginning of Nola’s relationships, particularly Greer and Jamie’s, and see why they’re so in love with her – beyond sex.|
|Jamie gets full on exposed and feels not just the wrath of Nola, but Cheryl and… Winny?|
|Gentrification takes center stage as Bianca just can’t deal with feeling like a trespasser despite the amount of money she is paying.|
|The famous Thanksgiving scene is revamped and it leaves Nola with but one real choice.|