By Zoë Boothby
Netflix dropped its new ten-part remake of Spike Lee’s 80s classic She’s Gotta Have It over America’s Thanksgiving weekend. Clever marketing, not least because the final episode chooses to focus on the holiday itself – how appropriate! – but also because, as we all know, a long-weekend is prime binge-watching time. I was no different, and consumed the series in a few short days whilst denying the existence of end-of-term deadlines. My commitment to keep watching was not particularly driven by enjoyment, however, but rather by that ‘can’t-quite-put-your-finger-on-it’ feeling. By the end of the ten episodes, I was still unsure as to how I felt about it.
In this sense, it reminded me of Netflix’s sister series Master of None – something about that show never sat right with me. And my complaints about She’s Gotta Have It fall into similar camps: both are plagued by clunky dialogue and moralising characters that never seem to do anything wrong in the writers’ eyes (despite doing things wrong very often).
She’s Gotta Have It attempts to tell the story of Nola Darling, a ‘sexually-positive polyamorous pansexual’. So far, so good – depictions of female sexuality on screen are far too one-dimensional, and often fail to convey any kind of spectrum beyond gay/straight. However, Nola regularly seems to contradict the label she has given herself. On multiple occasions, she asks one of her lovers, Jamie, when he will be leaving his wife. This line is one which has been put in women’s mouths for decades in cinema, whether satirically (Carrie Fisher in When Harry Met Sally, anyone?) or not; however, it sounds downright silly coming from a women who prides herself on her polyamorous identity. It would be great if a show committed to narratives concerning unconventional female sexuality could refrain from conforming to heteronormative stereotypes.
The show’s exploration of the gentrification of Brooklyn, depicting long-established families being forced out by hiking rent prices, is interesting and definitely worthy of analysis. However, She’s Gotta Have It doesn’t attempt to do anything particularly interesting with the racial dynamic at play here: instead it depicts a town hall meeting in which a fight breaks out between the black and white residents. ‘Black lives matter’, chants one side. ‘All lives matter’, chants the other. Instead of offering us a nuanced critique of a pertinent social issue, scenes like this often descend into farce and pantomime, offering little food for thought for viewers.
Like many other Netflix series, including the aforementioned Master of None, the show plays with form and structure, to varying degrees of success. A musical segment lamenting the election of Trump is powerful and works well in the context of the episode. Similar forays into unconventional narrative forms, however, fall flat: a dance sequence to Prince’s Raspberry Beret in the final episode, though uplifting, feels unnecessary and tacked-on. As a result, the conclusion of the series as a whole is unsatisfying.
Interesting storylines about minor characters are criminally under explored: in one episode, we grow very invested in Darling’s best friend Shemekka’s quest to get the body of her dreams, one for which she must pay a hefty price. This subplot demonstrates She’s Gotta Have It’s ability to explore, with compassion, the relationship between female body image and the media, with an added lens examining specifically how this affects black women, a dimension which is rarely touched upon in ‘mainstream’ culture. However, these events and this issue are rarely addressed after this episode, and Shemekka is discarded as an unimportant side character. The decision to do this leaves the audience feeling short-changed and wondering about the potential conversation that has been left unfulfilled.
She’s Gotta Have It is by no means a bad show. It is an entertaining watch that has its moments, with likeable and developed characters. A special mention must go to the music, which is fantastic, and the decision to include images of album art throughout is a stroke of genius. Ultimately, Netflix shows like She’s Gotta Have It and Master of None are positive steps in the right direction: we desperately need more series that explore the stories of People of Colour and sexualities that are underrepresented on screen. However, these topics need to be dealt with more nuance than they often are, as complexity is often discarded in favour of moralising, or, even worse, writers conforming to the exact stereotypes they are attempting to avoid.
Photograph by jignesh haha via Flickr