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31 Years Later, Spike Lee Puts A New Spin On 'She's Gotta Have It'

DeWanda Wise plays Nola, a self-described "sex-positive, polyamorous, pansexual," in the Neflix series <em>She's Gotta Have It</em>.
David Lee/Netflix
Courtesy of Netflix
DeWanda Wise plays Nola, a self-described "sex-positive, polyamorous, pansexual," in the Neflix series She's Gotta Have It.

Director Spike Lee was just 29 years old in 1986 when he released his first feature film, She's Gotta Have It. The movie told the story of a young black artist named Nola Darling who loves sex but isn't interested in a committed relationship with any of the three men she is dating.

Lee, now 60, says he made She's Gotta Have It because he wanted to show a woman "living her life, and not really caring about what people feel."

Now, more than 30 years after the original film came out, Lee has adapted it into an expanded and updated 10-part Netflix series of the same name. "It's the universe from two different Spike Lees," the director says. "I didn't know what I was doing with the first film ... and now I turned 60 while shooting this."

On the film that inspired the original She's Gotta Have It

I was heavily influenced by the great Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa's film Rashomon. I saw that in film school and I liked this conceit where several people are witnesses to a rape and a murder ... and they present their facts, or what they thought they saw, and it's left to the audience to decide what is true. I wanted to do that about a woman who was having three relationships with men at the same time and let the audience decide who was telling the truth.

On the challenges of making a successful independent film

 It wasn't fun to make it, but it was very fun to write it. ... Because, to shoot a film, you have to raise money, and it was a brutal task to raise $175,000 for this film. She's Gotta Have It was shot in the summer of 1985 from July 1 to July 14  — two six-day weeks. And it almost killed me. ... Making a successful independent film has to be one of the hardest things known to humankind.

On how the original She's Gotta Have It was received

There were many critics. She's Gotta Have It was not a [universally] acclaimed thing, especially among black feminists. So it was split down the middle. Half of women were saying, "This is a new, liberated woman who we haven't seen before." And the feminists were saying that, "This is the same old tired, super sexually charged black woman." So it was split down the line.

On adapting the film into a Netflix series

The film was only 86 minutes. With this Netflix series, we have 10 episodes. So there's much more time to spend on who [the main character] Nola is. ...

There was a huge presence of black women in the [writers'] room, because it was the right thing to do.

Also, [it was] even more important, that this Netflix series could not be strictly a male gaze. ... There was a huge presence of black women in the [writers'] room, because it was the right thing to do. And also [if there weren't women on staff], I knew that it would be giving people an open shot to say this is told clearly through the male gaze. So we wanted to negate that. We wanted to nip that [in] the bud. But also it was the ... most truthful thing to do.

On gentrification in Brooklyn, a central theme in the new Netflix series

Here's the thing about gentrification ... I just think that there are too many gentrifiers [who] move in who don't come with humbleness. ... For example, we had this thing like, what the ef is "New Fort Greene"? ... That's what some people call it. In fact, there's a sign in Fort Greene Park, which we show the picture of it in Episode 2, "New Fort Greene."

Just because you move in does not make it new. I call this "Christopher Columbus Syndrome." Something ain't discovered if people been there already. And so when people, a lot of these gentrifiers, when they move in, they don't respect the culture or the people who were there already. That's where I got beef.

Now, you come here with love — that's cool. But with this other stuff — I got beef with that.

Lauren Krenzel and Thea Chaloner produced and edited this interview for broadcast. Bridget Bentz, Molly Seavy-Nesper and Nicole Cohen adapted it for the Web.

Copyright 2021 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

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