By now you’ve probably binge watched all of Netflix’s newest offering, She’s Gotta Have It. If you haven’t, you should. It’s a layered take on what it means to be young, single, and Black, among other things in 2017. And while I’ve already heard mixed reactions about the show — my sister thinks it lacks substance because Nola (DeWanda Wise) isn’t struggling hard enough, and one of my homegirls thinks it’s lit because examples of Black people practicing ethical non-monogamy are so rare — there is no denying the political context that has shaped it. She’s Gotta Have It is a contemporary remake of a 1986 film. And while there are some things still intact, like the progressives of its protagonist's dating history, a lot has changed in the 30 years since it debuted. It's worth exploring how She’s Gotta Have It is pushing back.
The Nola Darling of the Netflix series lives in Trump’s America. To make it clear, Lee dedicated an entire opening montage to show how his characters, and likely he himself, felt about the 2016 election results. They were among the hordes of those feeling disillusioned, depressed, and disturbed by the American political system. Lee, and Nola, are as Black as they come. And as such, stand as political and cultural opposition to Trump, who thought Fredrick Douglas was still alive. I’m not sure what Trump would make of the package that is Nola: a queer, Black, young woman struggling to make it as an artist and balancing four lovers. What I do know is that her sense of autonomy and agency are in direct opposition to his apparent position that grabbing women by the pussy comes with the territory of being successful. And his constant critique of how women look is part of the same toxic beauty culture that landed Nola’s best friend Shamekka (Chyna Lane) in the hospital from a shady butt augmentation.
Ironically, healthcare didn’t come up at all in the series save for the Shamekka's stint in the hospital. For all the sex Nola has, there wasn’t a single mention of her or her partners being tested for sexually transmitted diseases. Her ageing parents appeared to be in good health. And even the homeless “mayor” of her block, Pablo (Elvis Nolasco), did not mention ever needing medical attention. While it could have been unintentional on Spike’s part, this too speaks to the state of the world under an administration that is seeking to undo all of the progress made on the issue under former President Barack Obama. The healthy bodies in She’s Gotta Have It need to stay that way if they want to avoid debt, or worse.
When cultural critic Luvvie Ajayi called Lee "heavy-handed" with the social messages he embeds in his films, I couldn’t agree more. I immediately got a flashback to Laurence Fishburne screaming “wake up!” at the end of School Daze, and knew what she meant. She’s Gotta Have It is no exception. In the very first episode, Nola awkwardly ends a speech about street harassment with the refrain Black Lives Matter in a way that feels forced and awkward. As if we might misinterpret Nola’s rent woes and the hordes of white people living around her in Brooklyn, gentrification was name-dropped mercilessly.
But the reality is that by the very nature of being young, Black, underemployed, and sexually active in Brooklyn, Nola Darling and her crew speak volumes to the issues we’re not ready to confront as a nation.