In this wonderful series (based on his own 1986 film) Spike Lee’s “She’s Gotta Have It” is a natural yet cinematically exhilarating look at Nola Darling, a modern black woman who makes no apologies as she navigates through her life and relationships on her own terms.
Unambiguously set in 2016 (and 2018 for season two) this vibrant series has pure delight in every episode.
The show centers on Darling, an artist in her late twenties who lives in Brooklyn and is struggling to define herself. Nola uses most of her time to hang with her few friends, create her art, and juggle her three boyfriends Greer Childs the stuck up and self-obsessed model, the fiscally responsible but married Jamie Overstreet, and the one and only Mars Blackmon.
Cleo Anthony and Lyriq Bent are perfect as Greer and Jamie but it is Anthony Ramos, playing Mars, who shines the brightest amongst Nola’s lovers. His take on the iconic Mars goes deeper than Lee’s portrayal in the 1986 film to bring out a true sweetness and humanity that lurks begins his self-created b-boy bravado. Ramos gives an award-worthy turn, which I hope which lead to recognition come the overly crowded awards season.
As Nola Darling, DeWanda Wise is a revelation. The actress is every bit the proper representation of the series itself. Wise is audacious, funny, imaginative, and daring. The actress is completely free and gives a natural performance that ranks as some of the best acting in any of Lee’s works.
In S1, Lee (who directs every episode and shares writing duties with writers such as the playwright Lynn Nottage and sister Joie Lee, who also plays Nola’s mom) created a sharp, expansive and bold show that drew from what we know about the original film. The filmmaker and his audience have fun with the references to Lee’s 1986 film. One of the most creative is that Nola’s ringtone is song “Nola” written for the original film by Bill Lee.
After a shaky start (the first episode was basically a thirty-minute rehash of the movie) the season found its footing becoming rich in character and content, culminating in an impromptu dance number to Prince’s “Raspberry Beret” that is one of the pure delights of Spike Lee’s career.
S2 gets even better as we find Nola Darling in a quite serious relationship with Opal (Ilfenesh Hadera), the single mother to whom she previously couldn’t commit in S1. The relationship seems to be doing well but this is the one and only Nola Darling. As she navigates life love sex and Art, she is bound to go off course.
In a few episodes, the show takes us to Puerto Rico to allow us to bathe in both its beauty and the effect of it being ignored by the United States government. Commendably, Lee wanted to bring income and attention to the ravaged area. The director insures the storyline works over smoothly and never uses it as gimmick.
As a filmmaker, Spike Lee has never stopped moving forward creatively and “She’s Gotta Have It” is a unique series that brings out the best in this naturally-gifted filmmaker. It is at once a commentary on being black in America today, a frank and funny examination of relationships, and a pointed dissection of the country during these divisive times. And yet this is one that gives its viewers hope.
All of this is wrapped in a beautifully shot and expertly acted love letter to New York City and its boroughs.
Smart, funny, sexy, overflowing with great music, and cinematically alive, “She’s Gotta Have It” is one of Spike Lee’s finest works.