Spike Lee explains why he revived ‘She’s Gotta Have It’ (Netflix, Thanksgiving)

Spike Lee at Spelman College September 30, 2017 to promote his new Netflix show “She’s Gotta Have It” and provide advice to undergraduates eager to break into show business. CREDIT: Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com

She’s Gotta Have It with DeWanda Wise as Nola Darling

Posted Wednesday, November 22, 2017 by RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com on his MyAJC Radio & TV Talk blog

Spike Lee never envisioned revisiting his 1986 indie film “She’s Gotta Have it,” which was groundbreaking by focusing on a single black woman who was unapologetically dating three dudes at once.

But his wife Tonya Lewis Lee had other ideas. She convinced him give the film a modernized twist via television, enabling him to delve deeper into the characters while maintaining its distinctive, vibrant style. Netflix will release the 10 episodes to subscribers on Thanksgiving. His wife was also an executive producer and several female writers contributed to the expanded story lines.

“She had the vision I didn’t have,” said Lee, a 1979 Morehouse College graduate who recently visited Spelman College to give advice to undergraduates and talk about the new Netflix series. (His mom and grandmother graduated Spelman.) “I did it already. She said, ‘You should think about bringing this back and make it contemporary.’ We ran with it. I’m very grateful Netflix stepped up.”

Lee, now 60, said he had barely looked at the film over the years but had no choice once he was ready to bring it back. He cringed a few times. “I saw all the mistakes a very young film-maker made,” he said. “It was my first feature film. I did it in two six-day weeks. July 1 to July 13, 1985!”

He said this is, in a way, a five-hour movie and given how people view shows on Netflix, that’s not a far-off statement. And to ensure continuity, he directed all ten episodes. “That was not a discussion,” said the famously hands-on Lee.

And as a filmmaker, he didn’t change his approach for what is conceived as “TV” on Netflix. “We’re making cinema,” he said, “not a TV show.”

Spike Lee speaking to Spelman students September 30, 2017. CREDIT: Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com

For viewers familiar with the film, the jazzy piano music is the same during the credits. Nola Darling, played with radiant confidence by DeWanda Wise, still loves candles. She is still a skilled painter. She is still juggling three guys: mature and caring Jamie, narcissistic Greer and fun-loving wackadoodle Mars Blackmon.

“I consider myself abnormal,” Nola proclaims in her bed in the opening seconds. “But who wants to be like everybody else? Not I!”

It’s 2017, not 1985. Fort Greene is now part of a rapidly gentrifying Brooklyn. The once all-black neighborhood has become far more diverse. And rents are sky high as opposed to super cheap. For Nola to afford her cool loft ($3,000 a month!), she has to hold multiple jobs, including teaching and dog walking.

In the first episode, one of Nola’s good friends mocks a bearded white waiter at a cafe, complaining that the changes in Fort Greene “hipster imperialism.” Nola name drops Iyanla Van Zant and the Urban Dictionary. Jamie reads his corny birthday poem off  his smartphone, not a piece of paper while Greer accuses of her being a sex addict. And each scene is introduced in hashtag form.

Lee isn’t above making references to himself. “Hamilton” vet Anthony Ramos, now playing Spike Lee’s Mars Blackmon, notes Darling’s painting of Malcolm X and leads Nola to say Denzel Washington was too black to win the Academy Award in Lee’s “Malcolm X” 24 years ago.

One of the toughest to cast was Mars, Lee said. But when he saw Ramos in “Hamilton” (“Eight times!” Lee said), he decided he had to play the Michael Jordan-loving, gold-teeth wearing character. To accommodate Ramos, he ee made him half black, half Puerto Rican.

The original film featured a controversial rape scene. Lee in an interview a few years back said he regretted how he portrayed it. This time around, there will be no rape but he notes that “women are still accosted on the street” and he revives shots of men coming on to women in cheesy and sometimes inappropriate ways. And as recent news proves, sexual harassment and assault have not gone away three decades later.

The early reviews for “She’s Gotta Have It” are promising. The average Metacritic score is 79 out of 100 with 10 positive reviews and one mixed.

Collider’s Chris Cabin loved it: “It melds Lee’s studied vision of Brooklyn in the age of sexting with the intimate yet ubiquitous inner thoughts and feelings of a generation of young, black artists and professionals without overtly praising or diminishing either.”

The Hollywood Reporter’s Dan Fienberg said it gets stronger the further it moves away from the original film: ” ‘She’s Gotta Have It’ is already a very good show and maybe a second season could rewrite some rules the way the movie did.”

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