Spike Lee’s retake of She’s Gotta Have It has an interesting twist that speaks to the truth of our times.
There’s a thin line between polyamory and whoredom, and Spike Lee’s remake of his 1986 original, She’s Gotta Have It, crosses that line. The 1986 original featured Nola Darling played by the beautiful Tracy Camilla Johns. In the modest yet engaging black and white film, Johns conveys the story of a layered character in intimate relationships with multiple men at the same time.
Meanwhile the 2017 remake—which incorporates a vibrant tapestry of rich and vivid color into its cinematography—features Nola Darling played by the stunning, DeWanda Wise (minus her seemingly superfluous and visually distracting nose ring in the opening scene).
Wise’s beautiful penetrating eyes are enough to hold the viewer’s attention as the series opens. Amidst the sterile backdrop of white pillows, a headboard and candles, her closed nose ring seems to be a subtle foreboding that the new Nola Darling is a sexual “bull in a china shop.” The white décor being an allusion to fine china, the nose ring symbolizing her bullish nature.
Here we find Nola as a rebel of sorts, thumbing her nose at social convention to insert herself into the traditional role of the alpha male (virile bull with nose ring) with multiple sex partners who all need to get with the program or bounce.
To add more of a cultural context to the opening symbolism of the series, it can be noted that in several African cultures, women who wear nose rings are giving a clear social indicator to those in their community that they are married. The only thing that the 2017 Nola Darling seems married to, however, is a sexual orgasm, which may very well fuel her artistic drive as professional painter.
Great painters figuratively capture the humanity of the people they paint, which makes it all the more ironic that we are unable to see the new Nola Darling’s humanity and truly empathize with her. Like the old Nola, the new one vehemently despises simplistic labels like “sex addict” or “freak”. The pivotal difference here is the fact that the character that Wise depicts on screen does not defy these labels through the force of her sheer humanity. She actually epitomizes them through her lack thereof.
You may even get the feeling that in her real life, Wise might harshly judge another woman who lives like the character she plays. Since Wise does not empathically tap into the complex character of Nola Darling within herself, the viewer is left with a stock character that they cannot really empathize and identify with. The old Nola likes to experience the essence of multiple men, while the new Nola is an egomaniac with Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
Albeit Nola’s narcissism is not as blatant as that exhibited by her flamingly flamboyant fuck buddy, Greer Childs (played by Cleo Anthony), it is observable in the total absence of sentimentality with which she sums up the role of each man in her four-corner pyramid of lust. A prime example was her convo over a shared spliff with girlfriend, Clorinda Bradford (played by Margot Bingham) in episode one.
She describes Jamie Overstreet (played by Lyriq Bent) as someone who takes care of her. It isn’t really clear what he means to her, though. The only thing that is clear is the things he does to make the narcissist feel good. We see some of this again in the following episode when Nola is talking about her relationships with girlfriends Clorinda and Shamekka (played by Chyna Layne) following a traditional African dance class.
As a Black man born and raised in Brooklyn with two younger sisters, the street harassment scene was a bit over the top. Scratch that. It was grossly exaggerated to unrealistic proportions, leaving me feeling as if the director had never been to Brooklyn to closely observe and interact with Black men in the hood. The scene came off as a leftist liberal reinterpretation of D.W. Griffith’s Birth of A Nation (1915). Then again it could have been a viral internet article attacking heterosexual Black men brought to life like Frankenstein by a Black feminist Nazi director with no Black sons to nurture, educate, and protect.
The street harassment scene was a definite head-scratcher considering the fact that Spike Lee has been a vocal critic of what he considers to be racist Black stereotypes in Hollywood film. Apparently cheap Black stereotypes are off-limits to Tyler Perry and everyone else but Lee, himself.
At times it seems as if he’s desperately pandering to Issa Rae’s viewing audience with this effort. Only the script for his 10-episode offering on Netflix is not guided by the hand of a Black woman, although the program has four Black women on its writing team (Lynn Nottage, Joie Lee, Eisa Davis and Radha Blank).
If you were to pinpoint the ideological difference between Black R&B music in 1986, and the genre in 2017, you would have to highlight the absence of love, respect, and empathy, coinciding with the rise of Narcissistic Personality Disorder in the lyrics and music themes of male and female R&B vocalists.
If 1986’ She’s Gotta Have It is Meli’sa Morgan’s “Take Me Baby,” then the 2017 remake exclusively on Netflix is more like Doja Kat’s “So High.” One song captures a depth of emotional feminine intent, while the other is an artistically alluring conveyance of how Narcissists experience other human beings as animated narcotics for pleasure instead of as whole people.
Adika Butler is a freelance journalist, culinary artist, and independent author who has recently published his first book, The Treasures of Darkness: Living Jewels for Spiritual Resurrection. His book can be purchased through his website at www.mindglowbooks.com.