There have been more than a few remarks and concerns in the comments that I’m not a big enough fan of Spike Lee. It’s actually quite the opposite. I’m a huge fan of Spike Lee. His direction has a bold, colorful style that I think would be a good fit for the current Black cultural landscape. He has a colorful and hyper aesthetic that feels rooted in the ’80s and ’90s. Those decades are certainly having “a moment” with so many artists referencing or playing with the visuals or sounds of those decades in their work.
Unfortunately, Spike Lee’s flaws are flawed. His bad habits are bad. He’s desperately in love with his own intelligence and references as a director. He can’t let a moment go by without letting you know exactly what films and music he loves. He seems to think he’s the only one carrying the torch of great Black art and all of his characters have to tell you just how much Miles Davis means to them. His desire to educate or lecture gets in the way of his storytelling.
Spike Lee is undoubtedly a pioneer of Black cinema. His work is unapologetic, powerful, demanding and without it, I doubt we would have any number of directors and writers who followed him and I’m sure he’d be first to tell you that. I admire his playful visual style and how would be beneficial in a Netflix series where it pays to keep it varied from episode to episode. Spike Lee has managed to infuse his signature style into She’s Gotta Have It and “#ChangeGonCome (GENTRIFACITION)” but the story in this episode felt disjointed and jumbled.
A prime example of Spike Lee’s worst habits is the indulgent montage of Nola laying roses on the graves of famous Black musicians, artists, and leaders. I have no problem appreciating famous Black leaders but the collection doesn’t track with who Nola is. There’s no sense that she’s a huge jazz fan or even a huge fan of Melville. This is just an excuse for the series to show off how smart it is and how important it is. Not to mention, I looked up exactly where some of the people featured in the montage are buried and a few of them aren’t buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in Brooklyn. Some are buried in other cemeteries in Brooklyn but Malcolm X is buried an hour away from Brooklyn. It’s a bizarre choice and this isn’t a major feature of the story that’s told in this episode. It’s a diversion that isn’t fun or impactful.
Nola’s story this episode is about her finally starting to question if her three relationships are draining her. This is something that should have been the central question of the show from the first episode. This is explored in a session with her therapist. Nola’s answers are laughable and don’t treat her men as people. It’s all about what she can get from them and reduces them in the same way she’s railed against this whole series. Mars makes her laugh. Greer is “surprisingly cultured” (What the fuck does that mean? That feels like a microaggression). Jamie was a convenience (read: sugar daddy) but now she cares for him. She admires Opal for being the kind of woman she wants to be but it’s not for the person Opal is.
We’re supposed to believe in the complexity of our lead but she doesn’t give that to the men she’s sleeping with. This moment isn’t played to highlight Nola’s hypocrisy or cruelty but it’s supposed to be…sentimental? Later in the episode, Nola goes to Mars’ work to fight with him. The fight ultimately ends up in a break-up and she doesn’t leave the coffeeshop/bike shop where Mars works. That’s the move of someone who has no regard for their partner’s feelings. Do the writers feel this is acceptable behavior for a young woman with her partner? I feel as if the writers would explain a lot of Nola’s behavior away by claiming she’s “polyamorous” or “just acting like a dude” but neither of those things are excuses for cruelty.
Then there’s the culmination of the subplot about gentrification. Oh, brother.
Another one of Spike Lee’s trademarks is he’s completely uninterested in writing sympathetic white characters. And he doesn’t need to. In fact, I admire a little “fuck-you” to the white gaze. How many white writers haven’t figured out how to authentically portray Black characters? That’s not the issue here.
My issue is this storyline was telegraphed from jump. Didn’t I say that Papo would end up in jail or worse because of Bianca? And the other issue is there have been films and television that talk about gentrification and racism in more dynamic ways. Insecure talked about new white residents calling Inglewood “I-wood” and Get Out showed the countless, subtle ways well-meaning white people contribute to a culture and system that subjugates Black people. Get Out in particular slowly let you realize the villainy of the white characters.
She’s Gotta Have It doesn’t let us make that discovery and then it doesn’t do anything with it. The white neighbor slips up and almost says “White lives matter” and then there’s a shouting match between the “Black lives matter” chanting residents and the newcomers shouting “All lives matter.” It’s all exhausting and obvious. It feels like a play written by a 10th grader about racism. As racist and evil as some white people are, most of them trying to appear sympathetic know not to say “White lives matter.” Bianca is definitely the type of white person who thinks she’s progressive and “White lives matter” wouldn’t fall off her tongue so easily.
After Papo and Nola are arrested, Opal comes to bail Nola out and Papo is left behind bars without an afterthought. If he’s the symbol of Black and brown people being ignored, the show does a pretty good job of ignoring him and putting Nola at the center of this storyline. The whole storyline becomes about Nola, her finally doing the right thing for once, and how that means she has to “date herself” for a while.
As the show gears up for its final episode, I’m worried what lecture I’m going to be forced to sit through or what other cruelty Nola is going to force her men to suffer through.
- We get a whole scene of Shemekka playing in the park with her daughter and her calling Nola to ask for a job reference. Shemekka deserves better.
- I can’t even with this “Nola is furious at Mars and Clo for helping her” plot. Nola has a best friend who set her unexperienced ass up with a spot in a major show and a lover who cares enough about her to advocate for her without asking. But she’s mad Clo made a video advertising her work, taking advantage of the public reaction that could lead to major sales. It’s almost as if the writers don’t know any artists because that would be a huge break for any young artist’s career.
- Bianca, the white neighbor, was dressed like a Saturday Night Live character whose name is “White Tina.”
- Anthony Ramos continues to be way too good for this material and I just want him and Mars to be happy.
- Nola getting the Catlett Prize is this show’s “Hannah going to the Iowa Writers Workshop.”
- Never forget, ye humble commenters, that I took a class on Spike Lee in college and I was the only one in the class who had ever seen a Spike Lee film before the first day of the semester.