Spike Lee’s career took off with his 1986 film She’s Gotta Have It. The movie was Lee’s first feature-length film and he wrote, directed, and edited it, working with a very small budget. It was well-received by both audiences and critics. Thirty-odd years later, Lee has returned to the story that launched his career with the Netflix series She’s Gotta Have It.
The plot of both the original movie and the new series centers around a sexually liberated young woman named Nola Darling. Refusing to commit, she dates three men. The arrangement is a happy one for her, until the men meet. In the original film, Nola is raped by one of the men. Jarringly out of place in a comedy, Lee has spoken of this scene with great regret.
Sex is a significant part of the plot but as Troy Patterson writes for the New Yorker, “Lee elevates the love scenes beyond the art-house sexploitation gist of the show and movie’s premise and into semi-spiritual cinematic acts.” One of the reasons the original film was so important was that it “helped to expand the way audiences saw black female autonomy and sexuality.” Gillian B. White tells The Atlantic that “what made Darling such an innovative character in the 1980s isn’t what makes her so compelling now.” The length of the series helps to fill out Nola’s character, including her career as an artist and her experience with sexual harassment.
In this era of #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter, this dramedy offers important social commentary on feminism, sexism, and racism. It also, like the original, is an unapologetic celebration of black culture. The fictional world of the show takes place in the real world present, as we see the characters mourn the death of Prince and the election of Donald Trump.
For a show about “how to be black, a woman, and an artist in a culture that values none of those identities,” writes Willa Paskin for Slate, She’s Gotta Have It manages to be entertaining. As with any remake, the reception hasn’t been universally positive but the majority of critics and viewers seem to find the show refreshing, enjoyable, and relevant.