Spike Lee’s She’s Gotta Have It, a remake of his 80’s film of the same name, is re-birthed as a bingeable series that deals with our current times and the grandeur of sexual politics, identity and creating a life for oneself, inside the framework of radical and earnest self-love. With a handful of expertly crafted shows that center around the black experience, such as Queen Sugar, Insecure, Atlanta and Dear White People, it’s impossible not to use these shows as reference points when digesting another.
The pithy episodes are full of lukewarm remarks and oddly placed one-liners, and in the ways, the reiteration of the story thrives, it also falls flat which makes it a bit disorienting. Nola Darling, gorgeously played by Dewanda Wise, is an aesthetic vision. Her beauty is both rendered and displayed in demanding fashion. Her presence anchors the series. Not just sheer beauty alone, she is brainy, creative, and assertive. But she’s also self-important, a bit myopic and obnoxious. She’s flawed, sure – a black woman can be mighty and flawed and fascinating all in equal breaths. But does this ring true of Ms. Darling?
The first issue that bears mention is how the initial episode introduces her three male lovers, Jamie Overstreet, Greer Childs, and Mars Blackmon, and languages their respective characters with too heavy a hand. While this is a comedy, their comedic presence often comes off grating, and ill-timed; almost as if they’re caricatures which makes the overall characterization seem insincere. These men find their stride, and in subsequent episodes, the writers manage to make their personhoods less cringe-worthy. Her female lover Opal is written sweet, yet stern, a comprehensive woman with her shit entirely together.
Spike Lee was determined to direct all ten episodes himself, and this proves to be a misstep as his heavy directorial hand imbued choices that could have been altered and better displayed under a different lens. A perfect example of this is the final scene in the penultimate episode where a reflecting Nola rotates around the lyrics of a stunning Meshell Ndegeocello song, as it plays in the background, for at least 30 seconds longer than needed. The evasive nuance of scenes like these becomes maladroit when they drag on.
What was done right though was refreshing to witness: the music was decisively stellar and the social commentary timely. Nola’s former classmate, ex-veteran Da Mayor, was an absolute delight on screen. Nola’s sexual liberation was generationally relevant. The night-of election fallout was pertinent and identifiable. The honoring of prominent black cultural and historical icons at their final resting place felt necessary. Her tight yet honest relationship with her sister friends rang pitch perfect. The artwork was a visual feast. All of these were excellent choices which receive high marks.
Yet, the final episode returns with the peculiar tinge of the first. The Thanksgiving dinner featuring all of her male lovers seems so self-indulgent and ill-advised it bordered on ridiculous. Nola’s choice to sleep with whomever she wants isn’t the issue; it’s that she does so in a way that seems like haphazard coping with an overriding side of grandstanding. The ending felt weak after she steadfastly spoke of actively choosing herself. In part, especially in the interactions with her romantic partners, she comes off inconsiderate and insufferable.
All in all, while the remake has its moments, the larger, more tone-deaf treatment of the lovers arc causes it to fall flat.