Is Spike Lee Still Relatable? Patriarchy, Gentrification Get Another Take In ‘She’s Gotta Have It’ Netflix Remake

Written by Dana Sanchez

Brooklyn is the setting for Spike Lee’s new 10-episode Netflix series, “She’s Gotta Have It,” but a lot of the action takes place in and around protagonist Nola Darling’s “loving bed.”

Bed is the center of the universe and Nola is God, reviewer Ricardo A. Hazell wrote.

The new Netflix series is based on Lee’s 1986 film by the same name. He shot the original on a $175,000 budget over 12 days, and it launched his career. The series began streaming for Netflix subscribers on Thanksgiving Day.

Lee is one of gentrification’s most outspoken critics, and no one knows Brooklyn better than him, Bethonie Butler wrote in a Washington Post review.

DeWanda Wise plays Nola, a struggling artist with four lovers — the nurturing businessman Jamie (Lyriq Bent), the narcissistic model/photographer Greer (Cleo Anthony), the basketball-obsessed bike messenger Mars (Anthony Ramos), and Opal, (Ilfenesh Hadera) a lesbian with whom Nola “purges herself of male energy.”

The film was groundbreaking in 1986 by focusing on a single black woman who was unapologetically dating three dudes at once, Rodney Ho wrote in an Atlanta Journal Constitution blog.

Reviewers are divided about whether anything has changed since then. Like the film, the series explores the complications of Nola’s unconventional sex life.

A sampling of what reviewers are saying about the new “She’s Gotta Have It”

Not a lot has changed in the past 30 years when it comes to the way society reacts to a woman who dares to enjoy sex, Butler wrote in the Washington Post.

Wise’s portrayal of Nola Darling is “most believable when she is pushing back against the labeling and objectification she faces for simply being a woman who is living life free of labels that only serve patriarchy,” Hazell wrote.

Nola has her flaws and not all her actions are the right ones, but she does manage to point out “so many misogynist things which are part of our societal behavior,” wrote First Post reviewer Utkarsh Srivastava.

For example, Nola refuses to accept labels like “baby girl” or “sweetheart” — things many men consider harmless. “Nola’s rebellion against them will make people reconsider them too,” Srivastava wrote.

Labels like that may sound like small things, but they make “She’s Gotta Have It” essential viewing in the times of #MeToo, Srivastava added:

“After #MeToo went viral, a lot of men started questioning their understanding of the world and how it treated women. Even apart from the obviously wrong things, patriarchal upbringings have rendered us blind to the little things which add up and end up degrading women.”

The film isn’t radical or controversial anymore, Ali Barthwell wrote in The A.V. Club. That’s because it’s 2017 and everyone is on Tinder:

“Like. Everyone. It’s safe to assume that if you’re sleeping with someone, they’re sleeping with someone else,” Barthwell said. “And you’re sleeping with someone else. Every woman I know keeps some kind of list or Excel spreadsheet with her sexual partners and detailed notes. Nola doesn’t sound radical. She sounds like someone you went to college with. The whole show feels like your 20s with better art direction. Nola’s bed, one of a few locations in the episode, is epic but it also feels like something she built herself from found wood.”

So do women think anything has changed in the 21 years since “She’s Gotta Have It” was remade?

“Most women don’t feel like much has changed, especially in the U.S,” lead actor Wise told the Guardian U.K. “Our bodies are being policed, our choices are being policed and, unfortunately, I don’t think we’re in a better place. I feel like ‘She’s Gotta Have It’ was super-progressive and ahead of its time back then, and it still is.”

Lee credits his wife, Tonya Lewis, with having the vision to turn his indie film into a TV series, allowing him to develop the characters further. “She had the vision I didn’t have,” Lee said.

Lewis was an executive producer on the show and half the writers were female who contributed to the expanded story lines. Female talent included writers Radha Blank and Elsa Davis, and Spike’s sister, Joi Lee, who plays Darling’s mother Septima in the series.

“The fact that four out of the eight writers are women helps the show avoid mistakes like the rape scene and the predatory portrayal of lesbians which were part of the original movie,”  Srivastava wrote.

Lee is not without his critics.

Some called his method of printing messages directly on the screen amateurish “at a time where it is getting increasingly impossible to escape showing text messages or Instagram posts in cinema.”

Then there are the hashtags. Lee gave the impression of trying too hard when he made all the episode names hashtags, according to a First Post review. Showing the album cover of songs playing in the background was seen as messing with the flow of the story without contributing anything.

Others loved it. “My favorite is the album covers that flash on the screen after almost every scene,” Barthwell wrote. “‘Insecure’ put up Spotify playlists after every episode and this feels like Spike Lee’s version of that.”

Relatable but corny?

From a male perspective, “there are a great number of things in Nola Darling’s life that I cannot, nor will ever, be able to relate to,” Hazell wrote. “However, the yearning for true autonomy from the weight of society’s expectations and norms is something that a great many of us can relate to. In my observation, I’ve found that ‘She’s Gotta Have It’ isn’t an indictment on male sensibilities at all, but a proclamation of freedom. Despite this, the main character still exists in a paradigm that was cleaved into existence by patriarchy.”

Perhaps the most damning criticism came from reviewer Barthwell, who wrote that “the first episode feels a little like my dad attempting to be “hip”:

“Unfortunately, the show is corny,” Barthwell wrote. “Nola and Mars argue about Denzel Washington not winning an Oscar for ‘Malcolm X’ and his win for ‘Training Day’ was a make-up call. C’mon, Spike. You can’t be doing this out here.”

Spike Lee
She’s Gotta Have It

Sign up for the Moguldom newsletter — business news you need to know about economic empowerment for the digital age, delivered to your inbox.

About Dana Sanchez
Dana Sanchez was born in South Africa and is a U.S. citizen. After working in advertising, she went back to school and earned a master's degree in journalism from the University of South Florida. As a business writer, she won regional and national writing awards. As editor of a daily newspaper, she coordinated staff writers, freelancers and photographers in the fast-paced environment of daily news. Dana was an editor at Moguldom Media Group for four years, helping to build and manage a team of staff and freelance writers. She works now on for Nubail Ventures. A long-distance hiker and cyclist, she writes about the business of technology.