Two Lead Fingers – Spike Lee’s Beautiful, Heavy-Handed New Joint
If the super timely remake that ruled the first half of 2017 was Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale, I submit Netflix’s She’s Gotta Have It as the remake we should all ride with into 2018. At a moment when the fragile toxicity of maleness is beginning to wriggle under the scrutiny of #MeToo and all its attendant revelations and allegations, artistic reminders of female agency are crucial.
The show is the story of Nola Darling (played by DeWanda Wise), an artist living in Fort Greene. She has three lovers: Greer Childs (Cleo Anthony), Jamie Overstreet (Lyriq Bent), and Mars Blackmon (Anthony Ramos). From the pilot onwards, all three of her lovers want pride of place in her life, want to be the only star in her sky, regardless of whether they have other partners themselves. More importantly, they each want to know that they are the only person who sees the full scope of her personality. Wise’s performance as she resists simple categorization and fights to be a woman living her life and enjoying sex is star-making. She’s the real deal. Bent’s performance is also emotional and convincing, but the real MVP of these three suitors is Ramos, who will be familiar to Hamilton fans for his dual roles as John Laurens and Philip Hamilton. Ramos reprises the role made popular by Spike Lee in the original film, and his Bed-Stuy-hype-beast-all-Jordan-everything swag is hilariously endearing.
Lee, who directs all ten episodes of this remake of his 1986 debut feature, is approaching this movie like a PhD program on his early work and its influences, both visual and musical. The show is full of film history and pop culture trivia, which Lee shoehorns into the dialogue with mixed success. But when it works, it really works. In the pilot, buttoned-up investment banker Jamie leaves Nola’s apartment while literally buttoning his coat and says, “I’m out like Durant.” And I laughed my ass off.
The show also feels a bit like a premature eulogy, which is to say, Lee doesn’t appear to be leaving anything unsaid. Every episode is a VERY SPECIAL EPISODE, including the pilot which ends with Nola staring into the camera and saying, “Black lives matter.” And while I agree with the sentiment, I’m not sure how the series is served by dropping messages on its audience so directly. As a viewer, I had just spent 36 minutes watching multiple black lives, and caring deeply about each of them on the strength of their performances and Lee’s beautiful photography. The hashtagging of activist slogans, even when it’s a slogan that will likely come to define our current moment, kind of cheapens the storytelling. On Netflix, episode lengths are acknowledged for the arbitrary signposts that they are, and creators are often given the freedom to divide up their series into any length they choose; but with episodes hovering near 40 minutes, I found myself starting to miss some of the structure that a shorter run time can impose on a story full of so many loving, passionate digressions.
But if the worst crime an artist commits this year is giving us a little bit too much of their art, I suppose I should be thankful. It is a treat to see these parts of Brooklyn, these brown and black lives, so affectionately reinvigorated. Because they do matter. They do.
header image: "fort greene park," pete jeliffe / flickr