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She’s Gotta Have It’s dialogue suffers from a dated point of view

Illustration for article titled iShe’s Gotta Have It/i’s dialogue suffers from a dated point of view
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The limitations of the writing of She’s Gotta Have It really come to the forefront in “#BootyFull (SELF ACCEPTANCE).” For Spike Lee, film, and now television, is as much a writer’s medium as it is a director’s medium. The dialogue feels written. Someone tapped it out into Final Draft and pat themselves on the back.

When the dialogue in She’s Gotta Have It is working, it feels playful and deliberate. But when it’s not working, it feels so painfully corny. It’s not hard to be reminded that Spike Lee is a 60 year-old man and much of the writing staff is similarly aged. The characters seem to be spewing 60 year-old opinions from their 20- or 30-something mouths.


Nola’s opening monologue was rife with just things a young black woman wouldn’t say. She repeatedly calls bodies like hers and her friends “the black female form.” That language is so hollow. It doesn’t feel like the way a person with a female body would refer to it. It’s closer to language a male artist would use. It turns the body into an object. It strips all humanity and personality away. If we are to believe that Nola is a sexually liberated woman who seeks out pleasure and satisfaction, would she talk about her very own body as “the female form”? Fam, I was truly wary.

Even in this show’s most entertaining or sweet moments, the way these young women are written is the greatest stumbling block. Unfortunately, the lack of forward motion for any one plot also hampers the viewing experience. The strengths of She’s Gotta Have It are the moments of character interaction. When they are truly listening to each other and being affected by each other. When the show tries to send a MESSAGE, it gets messy and not in a fun way. This episode focuses on the aftermath from Nola’s attack on the street as well as Shemekka’s desire to get ass shots.

Neither plot feels urgent. Nola’s friends are pressuring her to tell Greer, Mars, and Jamie about her assault. I can’t figure out why this is happening. The show can’t seem to decide if Nola has deep, sincere feelings for her men or if she’s just having some casual fun. If she’s just having casual flings with these men, she would certainly push back at being required to inform them of every development of her life. If she’s having deep feelings for each of them, she wouldn’t be rolling her eyes at their reactions. The men also react as if they have deep feelings for her but each of them are having other relationships.

Again, Anthony Ramos saves this storyline. He switches from being angry at the man who attacked Nola to tenderness. His initial reactions to her are misguided, you can feel that they are motivated by genuine affection for her. Nola continues to suffer what appear to be post-traumatic reactions and Mars offers for her to see his sister who is a Yoruba priestess. Clo suggests that Nola see a therapist and offers to connect her with her black female therapist. Nola refuses and sees a series of “wacky” spiritual healers and ultimately Mars’ sister.


I was let down by this storyline because of Nola’s refusal to even consider Clo’s therapist. Even though there has been resistance to therapy in the black community, younger women tend be a bit more accepting of the benefits of therapy. Young black women are becoming more aware of how the pressure to shoulder their own traumas as well the trauma of other’s can create more mental stress for black women. The myth and stereotype of the “Strong Black Woman” isn’t something to aspire to.

Nola’s refusal is because she doesn’t really believe in all that therapy stuff. The show could have taken the opportunity to talk about Nola’s inability to afford the therapy or the insurance required to see some practitioners. It also could have shown a worthwhile conversation about how young women are seeking to include more holistic or spiritual therapies alongside Western medicine or a return to traditional West African and Caribbean practices. But the show did neither. The spiritual healers were mostly played for laughs and in the end, Nola still rejected the advice offered by Mars’ sister.


Then there’s Shemekka’s feelings of frustration about her body. She works at Hot N Trot Supper Club as a server in a revealing outfit. It seems that Nola and her family views Shemekka’s job as beneath her but once we get a glimpse inside the Hot N Trot Supper Club and see the show Shemekka wants to join, I’m asking “Why y’all hating?” The show is five black women dressed in corsets and fishnets dancing to The Roots.

What’s raunchy or edgy about that? Again, it feels like my dad’s version of a raunchy stage show. It’s no more revealing than The Pussycat Dolls. Hell, I saw more impressive and sexual dancing on stage during The Soul Train Awards on Sunday night. There was nothing there to suggest that Shemekka is selling herself short or giving in to the patriarchy by being in this show. It looked like a legitimate dance show hosted by Fat Joe in a leather hat.


Even the game show used to taunt Shemekka “She Ass’d For It” is so over the top and grotesque. It feels like a Spike Lee invention but it feels overly critical in a reality where plastic surgery reality shows are passé. The host is wearing a pimp Halloween costume. Again, it looks like a 60 year-old’s version of a reality show.

Then there’s the discussion actually around her desire to get plastic surgery. The women around her are incredibly judgmental. Nola asks what Shemekka’s little black daughter might think. Nola’s mother mentions that Shemekka wears her hair in a weave instead of a natural. Clo invokes the name of both Harriet Tubman and Michelle Obama to suggest that plastic surgery is against some pro-black ideals.


The women seem to spout lines more suited to some Hotep. In the very informal poll I conducted of my friends, most seemed to look at plastic surgery with a “Good for her, not for me” attitude. There was no judgement of the feminist cred of women who would get plastic surgery and even admitted to wanting to get a little work done at a certain age. Every celebrity we praise for “aging so well” has gotten something done.

The male gaze is name-checked in Clo’s criticism but the blame for wanting plastic surgery falls all on the women. There’s no reconciliation that the male gaze demands body types that require some help from plastic surgery but then shames women for “tricking them” with plastic surgery and make-up.


Then there’s Nola’s mother’s comment about Shemekka wearing a weave. What year is this? Honestly? The natural hair community is changing the definition of “natural hair” to mean “hair that hasn’t been treated with chemicals.” Wearing wigs or weaves over your natural hair to protect it or even change you look up isn’t seen as betraying your “Natural Beautiful Blackness.” Even pro-black parents of a certain age understand the need to present an image more acceptable to white people. So, the lecture from Nola’s mother just seems like an opportunity to shame a black woman for her hair.

I still enjoy hanging out in this world but I hope the writing maintains that Spike Lee playfulness but with a little more honesty.


Stray observations

  • The show adds an artist who lives on the street named Papo. Spike Lee loves these type of characters; unfortunately, knowing Lee’s work, Papo is probably going to die for the MESSAGE.
  • Even the song the women are dancing to refers to women’s bodies as vessels. And why is The Roots’ album cover bright yellow?
  • Ramos telling off Nola’s nosy white neighbor was actively hilarious and I laughed out loud at “How somebody look like they dog?”
  • If you noticed how hard Rachel was selling the name of the dance class, you’re not alone. Pat Hall is an icon, just like the Mark Morris Dance Center where Nola and her gang take their Afro-Caribbean dance class.
  • It’s revealed in this episode that Jamie is, at the very least, living with a woman and their relationship is strained too.

Contributor, The A.V. Club. Ali Barthwell is a wearer of fine lipstick and fine hosiery.

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