This episode of She’s Gotta Have It finally expands the world of the show beyond what’s happening immediately in Nola’s loving bed. Knowing what’s going on in the lives of the other characters is a worthwhile endeavor and makes the series feel like television rather than an extended film split over ten hours. The fact that we’re halfway through the series and finally getting to know Jamie and what he has at stake or seeing Nola at work isn’t ideal. For the overall pacing of the show, it’s a boon but we’re still sitting through lectures.
In “#4MyNegusAndMyBishes (ALL WORDS MATTER)” Nola ends her “man cleanse.” Nola going back to her men after Opal dumps her doesn’t feel like Nola is interested in sex for her own pleasure but it’s a coping mechanism for her insecurity and loneliness. Her conversation with Jamie quickly shifts to him saying he wants to be monogamous and Nola has to let him down again. What is stopping the show from letting Nola enjoy sex when it’s the basis for this character?
If Jamie can’t understand or respect her boundaries about her personal life, why not just dump him? One reason is that Jamie is financially supporting her. He seems to be the only one buying her paintings and at the end of the episode, he sends her a box of art and teaching supplies. In the film, Nola enjoys what each man brings to her life but her greatest satisfaction is the sex. The show doesn’t ask if she likes Jamie because of their sex life or what he can provide for her.
Nola comes off like a kept-woman or a dilettante. There’s no acknowledgement of the power dynamics in these types of relationships or if modern women can be kept and consider themselves independent or feminist. This seems like a much more engaging conflict rather than listening to Jamie and Nola talk how underfunded public schools are.
Nola is an outside contractor coming into a school once a week to teach art; why wouldn’t she have to buy her own supplies? Characters are purposefully naïve about the world in order to deliver diatribes about public school funding. The show also seems invested in communicating “Life in THE STREETS is hard.” If the show is committed to this story, there are major characters who live in the projects. More developed story-lines for Mars and Shemekka could be utilized to communicate this message rather than monologues from Jamie or Raqueletta Moss.
The show also attempts to begin a conversation about young girls living in underserved neighborhoods and the sexual abuse they endure. Nola attempts to reach out to a student by showing her other kinds of images and saying that women might reclaim words like “slut” and “ho” but that doesn’t make them okay. This “ho” conversation feels like well-trod territory and most young feminists have reconciled this issue.
The truly unfortunate thing isn’t that the show even brings up childhood sexual abuse when everything surrounding this issue in the show is done ultimately to shame Nola. Raqueletta Moss performs another “Strong Black Woman” role more at home in Precious and tells Nola that art can’t heal past trauma. It’s irresponsible to bring up the abuse of young Black girls to not deal with it sensitively or give those young Black girls a voice. The conversation could have been about how hip-hop doesn’t give young Black kids good role models and celebrates violence and sex. That idea might be completely overdone but it’s not bringing up childhood sexual abuse to shame the main character for liking art too much.
The other storyline around children in this episode is the viral video made by Jamie’s son. There are children in blackface. There’s t-shirts that say “nigger.” This is some classic Spike Lee bullshit right here. It’s all exhausting when the emotional story is that Jamie’s notices his parents’ marriage falling apart so he’s acting out. That story can be told without the respectability politics from Jamie’s wife or Jamie comparing what his son’s friends are doing to Dylan Roof. Assuming that the majority of this show’s audience is Black people, do we need a lecture about the effect of white people saying “nigger?”
Expanding the story to include Jamie and his family lets us know what Jamie has at stake and we can make the decision if Jamie is foolish to risk what he has for Nola. It also provides us the opportunity to see him in a new light as a loving father. Neither Mars nor Greer are getting explorations into their personal lives so the show feels unbalanced and his solo storylines are just more chances for the writers to lecture about ISSUES.
Shemekka is another character that is purposefully naïve to deliver a message. Shemekka is supposed to be street smart and tough. She should her appointment to get ass implants in a dirty model, take one look around, and walk out the door. There are people doing off the books surgery but they more often take place in the back of salons or performed by doctors in worn-down storefront offices. This storyline doesn’t feel like a comment on something that’s actually happening but feels invented out of whole cloth by someone who would consider this an unforgivable offense. Shemekka is shamed and punished and tortured for her choices, for her vanity. Is the best character to tell this story? An Afro-Latina single mother living in the projects? Is she the woman we should be punishing and torturing?
- Raqueletta Moss is played by De’Andre Aziza. She’s probably most famous for her Tony-nominated role in the Broadway musical, Passing Strange.
- Nola notices her students playing the dozens, an African-American rhetorical tradition of playfully insulting each other. She says that the term gets its name from disabled enslaved people being sold by the dozen. That’s just not true. I’ve done some research on this topic as a Black comedian and I couldn’t find a single reference to this origin story, especially since the first recorded use of the term to refer to African-Americans is in 1939. Inventing a tragic explanation for something like the dozens is truly wild.
- The young actress playing Reggie (Taliyah Whitaker) also appeared in The Incredible Jessie James playing another young Black girl being uplifted by art and a free-spirited Black millennial teacher.
- The latest hamfisted cinematic reference: Nola refers to Jamie’s pussy-eating skills as “Stanley Kubrik A 2001 Space Odyssey good.” So it was too long and relied on symbolism to tell a story?
- Jamie refers to weed as “cheeba.” Y’all. I can’t.