#ShesGottaHaveIt. Starting Thanksgiving 2017, we have the pleasure and joy of meeting Nola Darling, again. Her character and the characterization of a place we know and love - Fort Greene, Brooklyn - are brilliantly updated for 2016 - 2017. It seems like Spike Lee has been taking notes on the content created by some of our faves which surely were influenced by his iconic works in the first place. In this series, Insecure's insecurity meets Atlanta's magical realism in Brooklyn with Spike Lee's glasses on. I also hear-tell it was an all women’s writing room. Thank you Eisa Davis, Cinqué Lee, Joie Lee, Lynn Nottage and all else who were there.
With She's Gotta Have It, I’m looking at my world in the mirror. I find myself desiring to only talk to my Black New York City artist friends about this. I’m looking at dancer peers on screen, and the art work of fellow anti-street harassment art maker Tatyana Fazlalizadeh. I'm witnessing Pat Hall teaching at Mark Morris Dance Center with friends Rosamond King among regular class takers, knowing that downstairs at the same time my heart Candace Thompson is teaching Soca. I'm unwittingly re-enacting scenes by just living my life.
Kiss. "I love you." "I love you more." Walks down brownstone stairs. "Call me when you get home." "Thanks mom!"
I mean, this series came out the gate strong. Stop Telling Women To Smile because I’m a sex positive polyamourous pansexual who prays to Oshun and pays respects to the ancestors by laying red roses on their graves and confides in my black woman therapist because Lawd Knows I have to take care of my mental and emotional health living this artist hustle life and while I’m at it here listen to this track cuz whatchu know ‘bout dat youngin’ and look at how beautiful my hood still is even tho the white folk have come wit dey ol’ conquering asses - STRONG.
We also get the treat of Spike’s signature camera angles: Nola sitting and rotating around herself at length, knowing looks at the camera, full face talking to the viewer, and the dolly shot. The work is self-referential and self-reverential. And if that’s not what your into, remember that Spike Lee does not deal in subtlety. He never has, and it looks like he never will. That’s an intentional choice y'all. Spike’s specialty is beating you over the head with the plight of Black people. I mean look at all the SHOTS FIRED against:
- The Academy Awards,
- gentrifying white people,
- wannabedown white people,
- Black folks who play white people’s game for access to money-notoriety-power,
- art critics (ahem Alastair Macauley, or whoever that dude is in the NYT art or film sections),
- Agent Orange aka 45 aka DT,
- NYPD, and to my dismay,
- vulnerable Black women.
Sister Shemekka on the other hand is a Black single mother trying to make ends meet by any means necessary. The violent treatment of Shemekka’s backside is shoved into our face; so violent in fact, I had to mute the television at her screams and peek through fingers for the scenes' conclusions. We do not get an unpacked understanding of what brought her there aside from the booty-centered sideshow that appears on every television screen and jealously of how much more money the Hot & Trot dancers are making. Is that motive enough for such extreme alterations of her body? How is it that we get to understand the backstories leading to the various conceits of each of Nola's lovers, but not the detailed backstory of Nola's best friend? How is it that Shemekka is not as enlightened as Nola's middle school student Reggie who knows that Nicki Minaj’s Anaconda is a role that isn't for every one, but rather a ploy for financial success in our capitalist hell-hole of a society? And even more urgent, why are we witnessing the gruesome explosion of Shemekka's ass? That shit ain't funny.
Sure, She's Gotta Have It isn't about Shemekka specifically. It's about Nola Darling, but Shemekka's character isn't a prop. She along with Clorinda, Opal, and Raqueletta Moss are multiple facets of Brooklyn's finest; archetypes depicting a range of contemporary young Black Brooklyn womanhood -- in much the same way the women casts of Living Single and Girlfriends operate in their worlds. These women's stories are intertwined and their liberation is interconnected. Seriously, how can I be free if my sister is not free?
If Shemekka's character including her body and story can not be treated with care, can we truly buy into Nola Darling's liberation by series end? Especially when Nola's artistic and personal journey are catalyzed by what she calls the "free Black woman's form" - quite literally, a portrait of Shemekka.
As much as I adore Lee's craftsmanship in re-imaging the groundbreaking 1986 film into this series with a number of smart choices in casting, writing, photography, sound score, plot development and more (there is really so much YES!), the Shemekka storyline undercuts a great deal of that work. How can She's Gotta Have It uplift Nola Darling for sitting in her power and navigating her freedom and at the same time violently shame Shemekka and women who may think just like her?