If you're anything like us, when it gets cold the first thing you do is to turn to Netflix for some comfort and entertainment. Luckily, the entire first season of She’s Gotta Have It will be available to stream on Thursday. The series adaptation of Spike Lee’s first ever film by the same name is an updated take on the sexy life of a struggling Brooklyn artist named Nola Darling. Originally played by Tracy Camilla Johns in 1986 and now by DeWanda Wise for the show, Nola is a Black woman trying to ethically juggle three lovers. If you’ve seen the movie, you’re in for some pleasant surprises as you witness Lee’s recreation of some of those key moments. But I think it’s worth talking about one scene that will definitely be missing from the Netflix series, the one in which Nola is raped by one of those lovers.
In 2014, Lee did an interview with Deadline in celebration of the 25 year anniversary of another one of his films, Do The Right Thing. One of the last questions posed to him was whether or not he had regrets about any part of his career. There was only one: “The rape scene in She’s Gotta Have It.” The legendary director admitted that including the scene was “stupid” and a sign of his own immaturity at the time. In the scene, Jamie Overstreet (Tommy Redmond) is frustrated by Nola’s refusal to commit to a monogamous relationship, so he overpowers her and rapes her in her own apartment.
Like any onscreen sexual assault, the care with which is dealt with afterward determines its overall effect. And in the case of She’s Gotta Have It, this violent incident and it’s impact on Nola was glazed over and hardly acknowledged at all. In fact, she ended up reconciling with Jamie as if his attack was as minor as him forgetting to call her on her birthday. For me, the scene seemed to miscategorise rape as a work hazard, a risk that simply comes with the territory for women who dare to be sexual with men outside of the boundaries of a monogamous, committed relationship. It spoke volumes about how Lee viewed women and sexual assault, a fact that is not lost on the director either.
Elaborating on his point to Deadline, Lee said, “It made light of rape, and that’s the one thing I would take back. I was immature and I hate that I did not view rape as the vile act that it is.” Nearly 30 years after the film’s release, Lee understood things differently and made a promise” “there will be nothing like that in She’s Gotta Have It, the TV show, that’s for sure.” Having seen the screeners, I know that Lee made good on that promise.
And it’s important because the issues that he has chose to address in the series instead, like street harassment, make an even bolder statement about respecting women’s autonomy. There are certainly a few moments in the new show that feel like Lee might be claiming moral high ground on women and their bodies, but that’s another post for another day. And if we have learned nothing else about Lee, it’s that he is open to exploring and admitting his own faults. The film industry could certainly use more of that.