Just as Jesus fed the masses with a single loaf and fish, Spike Lee revolutionized film with a miniscule $175,000 budget. Lee’scontroversial comedy-drama She’s Gotta Have It debutted in 1986 with its soulful score and fresh plot following the very complex Nola Darling. The introduction of Nola to audiences nationwide started, and launched, Lee’s career as a director and writer.
The mainly black-and-white film follows Nola Darling (played by Tracy Camilla Johns), a young black artist, and her relationships with three men and the conflict that arises from the arrangement. Nola identifies as a polyamorous pansexual and faces constant disapproval from society, and her partners, for expressing her sexual identification. On Nov. 23 of 2017, Lee revisited Nola in a new ten-episode Netflix series, now directing and writing her into a modern Fort Greene, Brooklyn. This fresh take on Lee’s first film serves as a deeper look into the interesting character of Nola, while reflecting Lee’s career since 1986.
Before beginning the new series, I had my doubts on how Lee would incorporate the fast-production feel of the movie, as most of it is filmed in a nitty-gritty documentary style, which makes the characters seem genuine and believable. Comparing the original film to the series is like comparing a bedroom-made EP to a Columbia Records studio album. Each production holds its own, but stylistically the two differ quite drastically. However, after watching the first episode, my preconceptions were proven wrong due to the elevated themes and the appropriate incorporation of modern elements.
The original She’s Gotta Have It gave audience members only a taste of Nola’s personality and life balancing three separate relationships. In the Netflix series, Lee was able to fully develop Nola, giving her family members and friends, along with a skew of different conflicts for her to weave through. Lee gracefully pays attribute to this “modern Nola” he has reinvisioned, as we see her living the 2017 lifestyle equipped with hashtags and empowering street art. The show digs deep into societal issues such as street-side sexual abuse and gentrification, placing Nola as the protagonist in the thick of it. I really appreciated how Lee branched out the show’s central issues, turning away from simply focusing on Nola’s sexual life.
In the new series, Lee does not completely push aside Nola’s partners, however, as he gives them more space to grow than was allowed in the film. With more time, each male partner becomes more of an individual instead of just a single note in Nola’s chord. Jamie, Greer, the infamous Mars, and even Opal are all fully developed characters as we can actually take a look at their careers and the large scale impact that Nola has on their lives. Opal was the biggest surprise in the show as Nola fully embraces her queerness in the series and Opal gains more screen time. The characters main personalities have not been altered, but instead broadened. This is seen as Lee, who played Mars in the original film, wrote Mars as Puerto Rican and chose Hamilton star Anthony Ramos for the role.
As Spike Lee has grown and matured, so has his storytelling and film-making. In an interview to Vulture, Lee states that “my work is going to be an embodiment of how I see the world.” With She’s Gotta Have It, we see into Lee’s world, how he’s progressed as an artist, and how his vivacity and hunger will drive him to do more.