Over Thanksgiving, Spike Lee’s 2017 remake of She’s Gotta Have It premiered on Netflix, and quite honestly, many of us have been confused ever since. Ten episodes of Nola Darling’s art career, her gentrified Brooklyn, and her adventures in her “loving bed” left us with a lot of questions for the group chat. Were any of Nola’s suitors datable? Was Nola even likable? If Mars stopped buying sneakers, would he have enough money to pay his own rent? And, most important: How is this any good? Vulture’s Hunter Harris joined the Cut’s Allison P. Davis and Ashley Weatherford to discuss.
Allison Davis, senior culture writer, the Cut: It took me about two weeks to work out my feelings about it, so this feels right on time. Hunter and Ashley, let’s start with your overall first reaction to the show. What did your gut tell ya when you finished all ten episodes? I hated it. I wanted to like it, but I finally feel comfortable speaking my truth: I hated it.
Hunter Harris, staff writer, Vulture: Not to be rude, but after I saw the use of hashtags in the pilot — #NolaDarling, #MarsBlackmon, etc. — I had to pause and do a lap around my Brooklyn apartment. When Nola ended the pilot by randomly interjecting #BlackLivesMatter into a monologue, I felt like I knew what I was in for, and started expecting something very heavy-handed. Nevertheless, I persisted! It wasn’t until episode eight, when Nola went to jail for graffiti she obviously didn’t do and a montage of her behind bars played out to Maxwell singing “This Woman’s Work” (!!!) that I considered just not finishing the last episode. I’m glad I did see that warped Thanksgiving foursome though — I wouldn’t have believed it was real.
Ashley Weatherford, senior beauty editor, the Cut: I didn’t hate it or love it — I feel ambivalent about the whole production, to be honest. It’s not a great show, in that there was no nuance, no subtlety, in how the narrative progressed. It felt formulaic, dated even. But that made me think: Who is this for? It seems like it wants to be a show for folks in their 20s and 30s, but the issues that the show raises are stale — in today’s fast-paced Twitterverse, at least. I wonder if older people — Spike Lee’s fans when he first emerged on the scene — felt something deeper. I think about my parents in particular, who worship Spike, but who aren’t particularly fluent in the language of polyamory and back-alley butt injections. On top of that, I worry that there’s a tendency now to lump everything into a dichotomy: good, bad; woke, regressive; a masterpiece, a pile of shit. That’s why I just felt “meh” about the show. But what do I know? I can sit through hours of Real Housewives unscathed.
Allison: That usage of “This Woman’s Work” was an insult to Maxwell, Love & Basketball, and all of us.
Hunter: I think we should talk more about the music selection, which Spike Lee did himself. Both of the Maxwell music cues — “This Woman’s Work,” and “Pretty Wings” over a sex scene, like Nola is a 40-year-old black single man — were low points for me. But overall, I could kinda rock with it. I also didn’t mind the stylistic choice to cut to album covers. That felt authentic, like this is a show that was curating a cultural playlist very intentionally.
Allison: The album covers were distracting, but I was into the soundtrack! Isley Brothers, Mary J. Blige, Sade — Spike has great taste in music and I enjoyed the chance to bump to songs I liked and had forgotten I liked. But there were a lot of moments that felt like he wanted to direct a music video, not a TV show. Why did we need an extended dance sequence to “The Seed (2.0)”? It’s not Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge! It’s a strip club!
Ashley: As a person with a seriously low music IQ, I appreciated the album covers! Saves me a click Shazam-ing.
Allison: Ashley, you said something earlier about the show feeling like it was written for our parents, not for us. I totally agree. I’m like afraid this is what my parents think of my life.
Hunter: Nola’s life seemed like some magical-realism idea of the life women her age are living: That giant apartment? A landlord that lets her pay rent late, and with bounced checks? Her therapist lets her pay in barter with paintings? Insecure and Atlanta speak the most to my life, and this felt closer to Sex and the City. Maybe this show was written for our parents, but more likely it was written for Spike Lee stans.
Allison: Did Spike Lee stans even like it? I just feel like in an era when shows like Insecure and Atlanta do such a good job speaking to the experiences and inner lives of young black people, it feels even more egregious and lazy when a show uses such broad strokes and relies on hashtags and tabloid headlines to talk about what it’s like to be a black woman in 2017. (We will talk more about that damn butt-injection plotline.) I really wish that in updating the show for now — which was a good instinct —Spike had spent a day with some 20-something women, instead of making Nola Darling a pastiche of internet trends, Tumblr emotions, and conversations he’d heard on The Breakfast Club.
Hunter: I am interested in talking more about Nola as a character, though, however unrealistic her budget was. I was frustrated by her indecision and stubbornness — there but by the grace of God go I — but I liked her determination to be an artist, and the way She’s Gotta Have It showed how messy that can get: she flops at a big show and puts her personal life in her work in a way that her friends are uncomfortable with.
On the second half of the season, I found her almost unwatchable. She was so pretentious: wouldn’t reference a movie that wasn’t black and white, cried on top of Malcolm X’s grave … she felt very “I’m not like other girls.” In her personal life, she was such a selfish character in the most uninteresting way. She claimed she was “living in her truth” and being polyamorous, yet treated the men so carelessly, as if she was daring them to call her out. Then she said she was treating them as men treat women! When was the last time you heard of a guy inviting all the girls he’s texting to one dinner? Like …
Allison: Maybe I was just too jealous of her apartment to be able to see any good in her. To me, she was just as insufferable as Hannah Horvath in Girls— oh my god, did we finally get a black Hannah Horvath? Because I didn’t ask for one. Unfortunately, the two ideas that I think were meant to redeem her — both “I did it for my art,” and “But I’m modern and poly and realize the limitations of monogamy” — didn’t do the job in the end. I don’t remember being this unsympathetic towards Nola Darling in the 1986 version. Everything sucks more in 2017.
Ashley: I left the series not fully understanding the nature of Nola’s appeal. I mean, I guess she’s great (she has three dudes vying for her, which is not nothing), but the show does a poor job of explaining why. Uh, she paints cool art? Show me a Brooklyn girl who isn’t somehow creative. As for her apartment, I didn’t mind that her living situation was wildly unrealistic because almost from the beginning I let go of any hope that this show would feel “real” to me. This woman doesn’t even have a consistent side hustle! No babysitting? No trips to sell clothes at Buffalo Exchange?
Hunter: So Nola is a flop — cool. But a lot of other stuff in the show — its depiction of gentrification, of beauty standards, of budgeting — seemed positively cartoonish. Not just unrealistic. Cartoonish. Shemekka (a character I liked!) got those crazy butt injections at a shambly motel. And then when she tried to dip it low and pick it up slow, her ass … literally… popped. I thought I was watching an In Living Color skit from the ’90s!
Allison: Who let him do that! They did Shamekka so dirty, my god. I was more stressed out during her big booty stage debut than I was during the entirety of Get Out. Ashley, I can’t wait for you to weigh in as the Cut’s beauty guru, but I was personally offended that this was how the show decided to treat body-confidence issues. I realize it was not written for laughs, but it was both a soapbox and a joke, and just felt like an insult. Also, what was the substance that splattered the audience? What was in that butt??
Ashley: Everyone laughed when I did a butt-injections explainer two years ago, but who’s laughing now? The thing about black-market surgery is that depending on the person doing the work, the procedure can vary radically. Some butt injections include cement, which is really taking “rock hard ass” to a whole other level. Most, however, include some sort of silicone. Either way, RIP butthole.
Allison: Wow. Ashley. I need a palate cleanser — let’s talk about all her men she invites in to her “loving bed.” Even though the phrase “Loving Bed” is actually the opposite of a palate cleanser.
Hunter: So there’s cool-kid Mars (Anthony Ramos — sweetheart my DMs are open), grown-ass man with a light-skinned wife Jamie Overstreet (Lyriq Bent), and the stylish model-photographer-influencer Greer Childs (Cleo Anthony).
Ashley: Not to be a total bitch, but none of these guys were doing it for me. Mars is sweet, but he’s a grown man who lives with his sister. How quickly can you say vagina glue? As for Greer — does this man actually exist? His character was like a sentient perfume ad. He’d string along a bunch of words that shared a vague connection, and then smile. Truthfully, Greer would be a lot more palatable if he’d simply talk less. I liked his weird, funky style. Then there’s Jamie. Jamie, Jamie, Jamie. I think they deserve each other, with both parties seemingly free to share their partners with others.
Allison: My heart says the only good one among them was Mars. (My love for Anthony Ramos eclipsed the horror I felt watching him have sex with his fresh sneakers on.) But I ended the show feeling like Greer was the best choice? Jamie clearly needed to take his wife to couples therapy and then bring her to the River Café instead of Nola. In the end, were we even supposed to like any of them, or weigh them as options for her? Or was it just about creating a three-headed Hydra of wish fulfillment for Nola?
Hunter: No, I had Bachelorette flashbacks watching her with these men: Like Rachel Lindsay, Nola was dating Jamie, but just texting these other guys back. Big difference. She had nothing in common with Mars; she just wanted to compete with her so-called best friend. Greer was shallow, and Nola was too fake-deep to take him seriously. But she and Jamie had the most chemistry, and he seemed to really care for her.
Mars was goofy, but like, entirely my type? Or at least, what my type would be in Spike Lee’s Brooklyn fantasy. Anthony Ramos was the best actor on this show by far. He fell into arguments with the other dudes so naturally, and seemed genuinely upset that Nola wouldn’t invite him to her art show. There was an entire episode about him finding out the goon that defaced Nola’s art — I wished that plotline went further, and gave him an opportunity to really stick up for her. And if not Mars, then Opal — she was an entire adult who was way too mature for Nola. I was happy they (sorta?) ended up together, but with a successful business and a daughter, I’m sure she’ll tire of Nola’s bullshit soon enough. Jamie is who Nola deserved.
Allison: Opal deserved so much better than Nola. I was so disappointed when she showed up at the end. She’s too smart for Nola’s mess and too good for this show, honestly.
Ashley: I agree, Opal deserved so much more! Opal felt like the only character that could actually exist outside of this show. She is smart, successful, and wildy interesting. That’s the kind of Brooklyn person that I know.
Allison: Okay, the all important question. Fuck, Marry, Kill? Nola Darling’s Boyfriends Edition. I’ll start. Fuck: Mars for his sexual enthusiasm. Kill: Greer because he has a terrible French accent. Marry: Jamie for the brownstone.
Hunter: Girl. I’m fucking Jamie — I guess — and I know he’ll have some weird, like, Billy Paul playlist on the whole time. (“Meeeeeeeee and Mrs! Mrs. Jones!”) I’m killing Greer. And I’m marrying Mars because he’s the most fun! (My student loans, however, want me to marry Jamie.)
Ashley: Allison, this is an impossible question, but, Fuck: Greer; Kill: Mars (sorry, little guy); Marry: Jamie.