When I first heard that Netflix was going to turn the iconic Spike Lee joint, She’s Gotta Have It, into a 10-episode series, I was ecstatic. In college, I had taken several Black cinema courses, one of which was a seminar strictly studying Spike Lee films. Despite its flaws, Lee’s 1986 classic was his noble attempt at giving viewers a nuanced look into the double standards of Black sexuality.
Nola Darling, a groundbreaking character who symbolizes Black radical female sexuality, challenged the often submissive mannerisms that overshadowed other Black female portrayals in pop culture. She wasn’t simply a dutiful mother, wife, or a domestic — she was unapologetically youthful, imaginative, woke, and sexually liberated. Nola gave a generation its first cinematic view of Black women being more than just monogamous prizes to be won, but that they, too, can explore other dating options as well.
There would be no Two Can Play That Game, Deliver Us From Eva, and other Black female-led romantic comedies if it were not for She’s Gotta Have It. It was ahead of its time when it was first released and inspired a new wave of Black film genres shortly after.
In 2017, the reboot fails to do any of that.
There’s no lighter way to put it: the series is flat and dated. Binge-watching all 10 episodes over Thanksgiving weekend felt more like a chore than a privilege. You could literally watch the first and last episode, skip everything in between, and you would not have missed much.
As far as the storyline goes, much doesn’t change: This time around, Nola Darling is still romantically juggling the same three one-dimensional men as before, but also now dating a woman in the mix. Nola’s queer identity coupled with woes of living in a gentrified Brooklyn is the only major highlights about the series that point to this being filmed in the 21st century.
While Spike Lee might have thought he was making a progressive statement by doing this, he must have forgotten that he’s no longer the lone Black filmmaker around giving us layered characters–which is why all of this was an epic let down.
Spike Lee does what Spike Lee does best — hog the narrative. Despite having female writers and producers involved, he directed 8 out of 10 of the episodes himself while only writing two of them. This heavy-handed disproportion of writing and directing is what hurt this series’ potential. In 2017, nobody wants an older straight man’s take on a female character who self-identifies as a “sex-positive polyamorous pansexual.” Spike Lee should have given more Black female, queer, and younger filmmakers a shot at directing an episode to give the storyline more relevance, insight and life.
And despite his wife, Tonya Lewis Lee, serving as an executive producer on the project — and claiming to have convinced him to take a shot at giving the film a 21st century makeover — this is appears to be showing of nepotism than a deliberate attempt to incorporate female perspective. Lee has always found clever ways of including his family in within his projects (his sister Joie Lee originated role of Clorinda Bradford and his father wrote music for the original film) — but hardly anyone else. It shows even more this time around.
For a film that is over 30 years old, what made it a thrill back then was the generational shift it brought to the culture. Spike Lee isn’t the same man he was then and for a project that symbolizes such rebellion, he should have opened more doors for others to chime in. In comparison, director Ava DuVernay makes it a point to give other emerging female directors their debut at helming an episode on her hit show Queen Sugar on the OWN channel.
For Lee to have entered the TV series business after all these years and not consider bringing others to the table, is what ruined this She’s Gotta Have It reboot. This is ironic given that a central theme of the series is giving Black women their voice and personal agency…I guess that doesn’t carry much into the male-dominated film industry.
In short, Spike Lee’s ego got in the way of revamping a forward-thinking classic into an even bolder series that would have awaken a new generation of viewers. Pro tip: Watch the original film to see how far we have come — watch the Netflix series to unfortunately see how far we could have went.
Ernest Owens is the Editor of Philadelphia magazine’s G Philly. He has written for USA Today, NBC News, BET, HuffPost and several other major publications. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram and ernestowens.com.