One of the most infuriating things about She’s Gotta Have It is the show can’t decide if it wants to be an explicitly political and reactionary treatise on Black life in America or a soapy, sexy dramedy. Spike Lee has been able to balance the two. Jungle Fever is the classic example of Lee gradually turning a relationship drama into a commentary on inner city problems. Unfortunately, the attempts at putting political and social commentary in She’s Gotta Have It feel disjointed and out of place. It hasn’t been done with any finesse or subtlety. The beginning of “#LoveDontPayDaRent (IF YOU DON’T KNOW ME BY NOW)” doesn’t feel like it amounts to much of anything and doesn’t have much impact.
It goes completely without saying that the election of Donald Trump was an unbelievable defeat that leveled the hope and optimism of over half the country. She’s Gotta Have It finally acknowledges the politics of late 2016 but the whole montage feels disconnected from the rest of the episode. It also invokes privileged rhetoric of turbulent political times. Kemper, the art critic who was interested in Nola and gave her a bad review, says that beautiful art is created in ugly times. Nola’s art continues to be apolitical and to insist that the threat of deportation or rights possibly being stripped away is the price to pay for great art is insensitive. It’s unclear if the episode is condemning Kemper for this belief but he’s filmed and presented as an authority in that moment.
This feels less like commentary from a character in the show and more like Lee patting himself on the back for putting this show together in the aftermath of Trump. The fallout from Trump doesn’t figure into the plot of the episode and isn’t acknowledged by any of the characters. So not only is it the most privileged way to acknowledge Trump’s victory but it doesn’t explore the emotional toll this takes on the characters. A melodramatic montage of protest signs doesn’t tell me anything about the how this moment impacts Nola or Mars or Clo. Papo gets more lines in reaction to Trump’s win than Nola does.
When it comes to shows like Insecure or Being Mary Jane or Chewing Gum, they don’t need to rely on extended montages about Trump to show their socially conscious side. By honestly portraying the lives and challenges of Black women, they are questioning and subverting stereotypical representations of Black womanhood in television. For many, that is a political act. I wonder if this quieter and more subtle wielding of political themes doesn’t interest Lee. I admire taking a stand and not equivocating on Trump but by not giving the main characters a chance to express their emotions about the election, we’re robbed of the reaction of Black women to Trump’s victory. Black women’s votes are often held up as the moral compass of progressives. By ignoring the opportunity within the show to portray those voices, She’s Gotta Have It ends up re-creating a dynamic that exists outside of the show: Black women are a reliable voting bloc for Democrats but their input isn’t asked for after an election. It’s disappointing for a show claiming to celebrate all kinds of pro-Black and liberated viewpoints.
Besides all the messiness with the political angle of the episode, Nola is happy and gleefully diving into her work because of her sale to Jamie. We find out she sold her painting for $10,000 and she’s catching up on her bills. Later, when Jamie’s wife, Cheryl, finds out about the sale, Cheryl stops the check throwing Nola’s world into chaos. Nola’s debit card is declined and her rent check bounces, prompting her landlord to give her two days until she’s evicted.
Nola screams at Jamie for stopping the check and this moment is extremely unflattering for Nola. It makes her completely unsympathetic. We’re not looking at a professional artist frustrated by a sale but Nola becomes a petulant bitch, screaming at her sugar daddy. She yells at him over the phone that she might have to move out of Brooklyn or even New York City. To that I say: “So?” Is he responsible for keeping her in her apartment or Brooklyn? We’ve gotten no evidence that Nola is a hard worker or deserves success. She treats getting $10,000 from her lover as the same thing as a legitimate sale. She’s content to rely on receiving thousands of dollars from a married man without feeling any guilt or conflict so she can continue to live her bohemian lifestyle. I’ve hit my limit for her selfishness and immaturity. Greer tells her early in the episode that he loves how she cares about people. Who cares about people? Nola cares about people? I’d like to see the evidence.
We certainly don’t see it when she shouts Jamie’s last name when she’s in bed with Greer and has to make up a compliment to hide her mistake. Not only does this feel like a tired TV trope but we don’t see any fall-out from Nola making this mistake over and over. All of Nola’s men are so head-over-heels in love with her that they’re willing to overlook any of her flaws and work harder to support her than she would for any of them. I’ve asked before why Nola doesn’t break up with her men if she’s unsatisfied but this episode left me wondering why Greer, Mars, or Jamie doesn’t break up with her.
Even when we’re upset with Carrie Bradshaw or Ted Mosby, we can understand where they’re coming from and they’re behaving in line with the thesis of their characters. I no longer understand what any of these people are getting out of these relationships. If they’re just fuck-buddies, they’re too intimately connected. Nola spends her time chatting with Mars at his work about her problems and he says he can get her a free Yoruba cleansing because she’s important to him. If they’re all in a poly-amorous relationship, none of the men have consented to this set-up and in fact, they’ve each confessed they have problem with the relationship.
On top of Nola’s relationship drama being damn near unwatchable, Jamie’s storyline continues to paint his wife as a shrill harpy. It frames so many of her objections to Jamie’s affairs as financial or as a matter of social status. The most compelling line in their argument is when she asks “How many soulmates do you have? Why can’t I have one?” Explore that, damn it! I can’t overlook his cruelty to his wife and how she’s framed as a light-skinned bougie bitch in order to sell Nola and Jamie’s relationship.
Episode 8 in almost any other Netflix series would begin putting the characters in position for the end of the season. Setting up the conflicts that will wrap up the story. Due to She’s Gotta Have It’s indecisiveness about what kind of show it wants to be, we’re limping into the final two episodes.
- Nola is seen mourning the election results with her girlfriends, including Shemekka, but later that episode, she mentions that Shemekka is still in the hospital. What exactly is the timeline for this episode?
- Nola believes her painting is worth $10,000? Sure, Jan.
- The opening montage features a new song by Stew, writer and composer of Passing Strange. Spike Lee filmed three different performances of Passing Strange for a film to act as a permanent record of the Broadway show. Passing Strange is more sincere telling of a young Black bohemian trying to find themselves and it’s worth a watch.
- Greer shows up to Nola’s apartment in jeans with a knitted black penis jutting from the front. One of the names for the pants “Free Johnson Slacks” made me think of LBJ and his fascination with his penis. The racial symbolism was lost on me because I couldn’t imagine any black man wanting to wear a giant black dick on the outside of his pants.
- Winny and Jamie talk about the fact that Winny refused to let Jamie go to jail because he was a minor and Winny took the fall for Jamie in their early criminal enterprises. Winny has one too many metaphors for Jamie in their conversation. Jamie is Brooklyn’s Jay Gatsby and he’s just seltzer water trying to get a fucking fizz.
- It was strange watching this episode after Doug Jones’ victory in the Alabama Senate race where Black women’s votes were so crucial.