Hope, Unease and Disappointment in Forgotten Brooklyn: She's Gotta Have It


This post was intended to resurrect my long dormant Filling the Gaps series, but as sometimes (often) happens, a film moves me to consider more than its parts, or even the sum of its parts.

In She's Gotta Have It, Spike Lee provides us with a time capsule of a time when independent African-American film burst into the mainstream, providing hope for a whole new type of cinematic experience, only to surrender to racial stereotyping, insidious in the works of Tyler Perry, and backward in the case of The Help.

Spike Lee cannot have predicted the consequences of this film. In creating an almost Woody Allen-esque psychological portrait or urbane, educated, professional African-Americans in Brooklyn, he exposed Brooklyn to the masses. Now guess who can't afford to live in Brooklyn Heights anymore? Middle-class African-Americans. He set out to show America that there's a place in where blacks aren't gangbangers or drug dealers, but poets, artists, dancers and philosophers. It worked.

For someone who's living smack in the middle of the one-mile radius in which Lee filmed, his loving panoramas of Fort Greene, the Brooklyn Bridge and Jay Street provide a view into what now seems like a parallel universe. There are no white people on the streets of She's Gotta Have It. There are few black people in DUMBO today.

So in between all the grand moments of "hey, that's my street!" and "hey, that's my office!", and "hey, the waterfront doesn't have boats anymore!", watching this film also created a pyschological unease. That was 1986. This is 2012. In just over 25 years, Brooklyn has seen one of the most dramatic demographic shifts of anywhere in the country.

But since Lee could never have known what would follow, it leaves us to look at the movie itself, which is as brilliant, moving, and as ahead of its time as so many have stated. He claims he didn't set out to create a feminist film, and yet that's what we're left with. Nola and her many lovers, never disguising her lifestyle to any of them, unwilling to apologize for taking pleasure in her sexuality.


Each lover approaches Nola's lifestyle as a "disease," a mental ailment that she needs to cured of, for a woman that doesn't want to settle down must surely be unnatural. Of course, this is a comedy, so each man's approach to curing her is markedly different. The one who seems most sympathetic throughout the movie does punish her most brutally in the film, in a manner that I'm not convinced fits into the movie.

If you haven't seen She's Gotta Have It, make sure you do. It's a wonderful film for many reasons, not least it's gender and racial politics. It's also incredibly funny.





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2 Responses to “ Hope, Unease and Disappointment in Forgotten Brooklyn: She's Gotta Have It ”

  1. Good review.  This was the first Spike Lee movie I ever saw.  A cable channel used to specialize in new directors and I saw this, Robert Rodriguez's El Mariachi, Robert Townsend's Hollywood Shuffle, Kevin Smith's Clerks, and many others this way.

  2. theoncominghope1 July 2012 at 11:26

    That sounds like an awesome cable channel! I sometimes miss that experience of discovery. The limitless choices on Netflix leave the door open to indecision and regret when it comes to trying on new movies.


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