This is one of those rare occasions where a marriage between something old and something new is a perfect union. Three decades have come and gone since Spike Lee altered the landscape of the film industry but it has barely been three years since Netflix forever changed the game for net-based entertainment. Back when Spike was in film school “streaming” would’ve been something you’d think you needed a boat and a paddle to do. Now, that is the vehicle that has allowed Spike back onto the main stage of pop culture dialogue where he belongs. He has not wasted this golden opportunity.
Giving a bona fide cinematic genius like Spike Lee a Netflix series format on which to reboot his original groundbreaking film She’s Gotta Have It was a crowning achievement for everybody involved. Because Netflix has created a phenomenon called binge-watching, a film-maker like Spike Lee can now make a movie that is literally six or seven hours long. The possibilities are limitless and that is manna from heaven for a guy who has been pushing the limits since the day he took his very first shot in the industry.
Spike’s feuds with big film studios and distributors are legendary and have no doubt dampened the powder to fire up his projects over the last twenty years. Frankly, his friendship with Denzel Washington and their work together is about all that has kept Spike from fading to black altogether- at least where making buzz-generating feature films is concerned.
But shed no tears for Spike who has always been a business man first. He’s executive produced several big hits, become an award winning documentarian and made a boatload off of his commercial production projects. He’s probably still drawing interest off that Nike/Mars Blackmon cream to this very day.
But because we have Netflix, we have the rebirth of Spike’s original leading lady, Nola Darling.
He is back to doing what we who love films love to see him do most: make us think about ourselves and our world and make us laugh at both to help the thoughts go down easier. He did that and then some with the ten episodes he had to tell the story of the 2016 version of Nola.
Spike hit a home-run when he cast DeWanda Wise as the new Nola. She had it all, and she had us at hello. With all due respect to Tracy Camilla Johns who portrayed Nola in the 1985 original, Miss Wise’s charisma and appeal was obvious right from the start and none of the men watching would ever wonder why she was able to pull off the juggling act she had going on. It made sense.
She was so appealing that after a while, I was even able to ignore that horrid nose ring she had sitting atop her upper lip. Maybe I’m just not hip enough to be turned on by that bit of afro-centric sexuality, but that’s cool. It was worth the trouble to look past it.
There are not many writers who can develop characters and capture nuance as well as Spike can and the extended format of a Netflix miniseries was tailor made for him to shine. We get to know her 4 lovers a great deal more than we ever could in a traditional film and they were worth knowing- despite some of the cartoon-character qualities that Spike never could resist entirely- the excessive vanity of Greer Childs and the hyper-active ADD patient Mars especially.
In the end we saw that in telling a more fleshed out Nola Darling story Spike Lee is more fleshed out himself. He was wise to ditch the ugly and unecessary rape sequence from the original film and the narrative was actually improved because of it. We saw that the ultimate struggle that Nola was having was NOT over her control of her sexuality- as in “who’s going to control it, me or them?” She was so busy not giving a fuck about what anybody else thought about her activities that she lost track of deciding what SHE thought about her activities.
So the real struggle was in making sense of her OWN stewardship of her sexuality. Ownership was never in question- never in doubt. That was an evolved narrative that I was glad to see Spike carry us into and it no doubt was the result of his decision to let the writing be a more collaborative affair- as he enlisted the aid of several women writers to carry the ball in alternating episodes.
The highlights for me was the hilarious yet depressing sequence where New York City suffers from an apocalyptic depression in the wake of Trump’s election over Hilary Clinton. It was funny but it was a painful reminder of how much we were all hurting that day. (And yes, I am making the assumption that if you voted for Trump, you did not binge-watch She’s Gotta Have It. Up yours if you don’t like it) The other big highlight was the amazing high-wire act Spike pulled in having the main cast do a Prince tribute in a dance to one of his all-time greatest hits right in the middle of crucial dialogue. It was pure Spike Lee and the most creative shout out to his friend that I’ve seen done anywhere. No shame in my game, I almost cried. It was that good.
I do not know if there will be a season 2 of She’s Gotta Have It on Netflix. I hope there is but even if there isn’t, the mission was accomplished. Spike brought an important story and an intriguing dialogue to a new generation and in so doing proved beyond any doubt that he is a unique, valuable and viable voice in this millennium. Welcome back, blood. Please keep doing your thing. By Any Means Necessary. Ya Dig. Sho ‘Nuff.