Reboots are generally disappointing. It’s a sad state of affairs when studios forgo the ingenuity and risk of creating new characters and narratives in favor of recycling familiar material for a quick buck. But Spike Lee’s She’s Gotta Have It is the exception to the reboot rule; it actually enhances and expands its source material, resulting in an immensely rewarding viewing experience. The original 1985 film was shot in [amazon template=right aligned image&asin=B000XJD34S]twelve days on a shoestring budget in artsy black and white, and its gritty depiction of urban life and female sexual liberation in Brooklyn put Lee on the cinematic map. Now that Netflix has serialized SGHI across ten episodes, Lee is using this wider canvas beautifully; he blows up the story of artist Nola Darling and the three lovers she keeps at arm’s length into a multi-faceted meditation on life in 2017.
Unlike 1985’s Nola who had a day gig doing magazine layouts, today’s Nola (DeWanda Wise) is a painter struggling to pay her rent in gentrified Brooklyn. She’s a gifted artist, as evidenced by the many examples of her work we see, and her art is clearly her priority. But the show finds Nola at a crossroads where she is forced to make hard decisions about the direction of her life. The stakes are higher for this year’s Nola, as her journey of self-actualization is often humbling and difficult. Indeed DeWise and Lee ensure that we are all as emotionally invested in her evolution as she is.
Other characters from the original film are also updated with tremendous depth and richness with each serving a distinct purpose in guiding Nola along in her continuing maturation. Jamie Overstreet (Lyriq Bent) is separated from a white wife (with whom he has a biracial son), and his home life serves as compelling narrative fodder for examinations of race, upward mobility, and marital discord. Lee’s iconic Mars Blackmon character is updated by Anthony Ramos as half-Puerto Rican and living in the Fort Greene projects with his sister; his charisma and unconditional love for Nola light up the screen whenever he appears. Narcissistic Greer Childs (Cleo Anthony) initially appears as a cartoonish playboy, but his humanity eventually reveals itself as he seeks a deeper connection to Nola. As for Nola’s ex-roommate Clorinda Bradford (Margot Bingham), she now runs an art gallery, adding a subtle power dynamic to their already complicated relationship. And Nola’s lone female lover Opal Gilstrap (Ilfenesh Hadera) is a single mother who serves as a model of adult responsibility.
In truth, the character in She’s Gotta Have It that has evolved the most over the last three decades is our society, and Lee presents us with a compelling portrait of ourselves and the world we live in. For all of the technological and social progress we’ve made since 1985, it seems we’ve still got a long way to go. Though the show takes place in 2016 (and the depiction of November 8th is deep!), a year’s time hasn’t made She’s Gotta Have It any less relevant for this very day. And personally, after suffering through years of my borough’s two-dimensional portrayals in movies and on TV, I must commend Lee for showing the world what Brooklyn actually looks and feels like. Any flaws in the show (subplots that are introduced and never resolved, occasionally pedantic dialogue) are easily forgiven; 2017’s She’s Gotta Have It is essential viewing for anyone seeking to make sense of our world today, and it may serve future generations as one of the most accurate representations of these turbulent and transitional times.
Photo: She’s Gotta Have It, courtesy of Netflix.