“She’s Gotta Have It,” Spike Lee and Netflix’s recent creation that premiered on Thanksgiving Day, is immediately an enrapturing experience for the viewer. Based off Lee’s original 1986 movie of the same name, “She’s Gotta Have It” follows Nola Darling as she travels through her daily life trying to juggle her interpersonal relationships, propel her career as an artist, and, most importantly, pay her expensive Fort Greene, Brooklyn rent.
Throughout the season, Nola struggles with all of these, seeming to flip-flop between personal ultimatums, bad decisions, and general indecision. Her three lovers, investment banker Jamie Overstreet, narcissistic model Greer Childs, and wild sneaker enthusiast Mars Blackmon, each think they deserve to be with Nola exclusively, despite her very clear boundaries being communicated on a regular basis.
The first episode of the pilot season starts off with Nola rising up from her “lovin’ bed” – as in, “you know I only make love in my lovin’ bed,” something she repeats to the men in her life more than once – to address the audience with a monologue.
The narration seems stilted and cheesy at first, but as the episodes progress, it becomes a valuable stylistic choice. As the plot hurls forward into the thick of Nola’s life, these fourth-wall-breaking moments become crucial in expressing the unique atmosphere of the show. In the moments when Nola turns to the camera and stares into our souls, I found myself drawn further into the character that she is. It’s in these moments that I think Lee was able to capture the feeling that others have tried and failed to with narration. It’s distinctly very cool, in my opinion.
While still possessing some flaws, the show is a wonderful addition to the archive of lifestyle storytelling based in New York City. Lee is great at providing the audience an alluring, inspiring, and beautiful snapshot of life in Brooklyn. The reality of the gentrified nature of the city isn’t ignored, either – it’s mentioned often and comes to a head in the last few episodes of the season as Nola’s new neighbor calls the police on a well-known, well-liked neighborhood homeless man.
It’s this ability to work in the real, deeply affecting aspects of life as a person of color in a gentrified city that makes this show great. You see many different sides of the black experience confronted in Nola’s story, through her personal experiences, through the lives of her friends and the lives of her lovers. It’s beautiful and real and important to have immortalized, through media like this.
Above all, however, I believe that the truly compelling point in this story is the way the different experiences affect Nola’s ability to live and thrive. People are constantly telling Nola she is wrong, telling her she’s doing something wrong, correcting her actions, her choices, her body and her thoughts. Nola is constantly under attack – from store clerks surveilling her, to her lovers defining her.
When she stress-buys a $500 black dress in a hopes of cheering herself up, make herself feel sexy, and instill herself with a confidence boost, she is bombarded with definitions and dictations from each of her male lovers. Jamie, the ever proper married man, deems it inappropriate and tries to cover her up in public, but uses the dress’ sexiness as an excuse to get his way into her lovin’ bed. She does not invite him in.
Mars, whom she is with at a music show later that night, nearly gets into a fight with another man who was getting handsy with her. As they’re walking home after the incident, Mars is worked up and blames the man’s actions on the provocative nature of the dress. He, also, does not get invited into her lovin’ bed.
When Nola wears the dress to visit Greer the next day, he doesn’t seem interested in spending time with her. Rather, he begins to photograph her in the dress, and when she becomes uncomfortable and asks him to stop, he doesn’t.
In the end, Nola becomes frustrated with all three men. They all seem to want her, to want to be with her, and even seem to care for her. But they are still trying to define her, control who she is. As a woman, seeing a protagonist’s experience with this portrayed on film is incredibly validating. It’s a reality that is all too true for us, and as it’s seen with Nola, it’s a reality that affects our emotions, identity, and sometimes ability to function.
Alas, I have rambled; this show has very quickly become one of my favorites, and I could talk for hours about it. From the expert use of music and rhythm to help frame and add dimension to the characters, to the amazingly hilarious final episode, this show is a fun, genuine portrayal of a millennial woman figuring out who she is in today’s world.
The style is odd, the characters are intriguing, and Nola is relatable. I would say this is a must-see for my peers and anyone else interested. I rate “She’s Gotta Have It” a 5 out of 5.