BY MADELINE HATTER
Last week I read a Broadly review of the new She's Gotta Have It by Zoé Samudzi. This is my review, but I had to put that out because it's also partly a reaction to that article. Not fully independent, because it's a thorn in my side that Spike Lee's arthouse ways tend to bring out my inner grad student. Grrrr...
I wouldn't say it's great, but that's only because I lack interest in subtle discourse about morality. The unspoken "What do you think of this?" GASP! Is he/she a whore? GASP! Are they gay or straight? GASP! Why can't they get their sh*t together? Nope. You're a "polyamorous... pansexual" who has trouble paying rent? Great do you. I'll be over here chillin with my tea.
That said, there's nothing that I inherently disagreed with in her article except in the omission that it feels like it's about our love affair with judgement and control. Isn't that most of life's frustrations, anyway? We want people more pious, we want them to love us more, less, be nicer, etc. It's judgement and control over who we are, who others are, how we think others view us, and what we want people to be in the spaces around us.
Looking at you Bianca, one of the new White residents wanting their new neighborhood to be idyllic and free from visions of uncertainty like Papo, the homeless veteran who's so much a staple of the block that people call him "The Mayor". These new neighbors, coupled with the invisible city policies that support them, are antagonistic to the established residents' way of life financially and socially. On more than one occasion, the main character laments her money troubles and toward the end, there's a scene that will make your heart skip a beat if you call back to Do the Right Thing. Although you'll probably think of the real people whose names you know from the last five or so years.
Side-eye at society's default to the male gaze. Fat Joe and his quasi strip club. The TV game show where you can win a big butt. Mekka's obsession (budding body dysmorphia?) with her butt - or lack thereof, next to pan-African body stereotypes. "Research" showed her a direct link between the butt plasty and increase her pay. Her body is a commodity. People judge whether it's good, how it looks. After years of ragging on someone about [XYZ body part], people ask, "Why'd you get work done?" or "Why'd you get so much?" Here, absurdity speaks volumes. This might be the most feminist work I've seen from Spike since Jungle Fever. (Well, feminist to me.)
It's in the expectation Jaime presumes his coworkers have, that he wouldn't be with a woman dressed the way Nola is that night at the restaurant. The expectation to dress a certain way in certain places. The expectation to be with your wife in public and not your mistress.
Check out Nola's conversation with her gay friend, for whom she poses as his fianceé for his très conservative Trinidadian parents. She believes he should come out. It's 2016! But he has a palpable concern with being excluded from the family. Losing financial support while in school, paying rent, etc. That's exactly the kind of event that sends so many gay children and young adults into homelessness and prostitution. Mind your business Nola?
Meanwhile, Nola (read: women) wants control over how she's viewed by men, by her lovers, how she's treated, how she's spoken to and about. Her paramours keep "mentioning" her sexual affairs, only supports my belief that they (read: men) only want her (read: women) the way they want her, in circumstances that they prefer, despite not being exactly exclusive to her either.
In turn, she wants her lovers to be people who they aren't. She wants them to respond to her tight Black dress the way the older lady did. She doesn't want their endless advice or for them to find pride in telling her how to defend herself against crazy men at night; she wants the sympathy. She freaks out when they all have the same reactions - when they each, separately, react sexually to her despite being upfront and clear in defining their relationships as being casual sex. Does she want them to elevate? Maybe that's why she can't commit to only one?
On yet another hand, the plight of many artists is conflicting natures; doubly so for artists that burn so bright like Nola. Monogamy as defined by Western culture is a difficult seat to have for some personalities. Who is the type of person who keeps them interested and coming back night after night?
Sure, her behavior (lol, She's super disorganized!) doesn't do any favors for our national discourse or understanding of poly and pansexual people, but is this character not someone who could exist? I know at least a couple people who fit into her same lane in one way or another. She didn't seem all that cartoonish or unreal to me. I think the desire for her to be this awesome-at-all-costs person comes from our uneducated national discourse on human behavior and adherence to the good/bad narrative.
She's super artsy and knowledgeable about virtually everything because our nation lacks respect for Black intellect and history. Black Boomers and GenXers have a yearning to see that because it didn't exist on screen for SO LONG. Spike is one of the people who put it there. Perhaps now it comes off a touch unnatural? Given the erasure of Black contributions to U.S. culture, it is fully understandable why non-conforming people have trouble with She's Gotta Have It, because...
Non-monogamy ≠ polyamory. Could they be a polyamorous family? Could the four of them be exclusive to each other? Could the lovers be themselves without fighting for more attention? Can they remain committed, alone, even when they're not paired with her? Or how/when/who would they add to their circle? Would they be bashful in a team session? These are questions that come along with polyamory. What they're doing is non-monogamy, especially since in many ways, Nola seems manipulative in the final scenes with them. Or perhaps there's a bit of dominance play at work? Did you notice all the punishment and reward?
That ending! That precious ending that unites her three lovers at the table is so Greek lit, Perseus should've Kramer'd an entrance. Jaime, Greer, and Mars representing their own side of her and a different dynamic or role in their circle, revealing her to be the great Cerberus or the body of the Hydra. Did you fall into their emotions so deeply and forget that she's the meatball of this spaghetti factory? Figures. Black women are often invisible.
Especially funny was how they each tried to "mark their territory", vying for an extra bit of her attention, to prove themselves victorious in their own heads. But was it disrespectful? Wasn't she simply inviting three friends over? They HAD previously been so concerned with each other separately. Why be upset when the curtain is drawn? Does that upset you? Why?
Then, the reveal of the painting, which of course, hurt because of how much gravity our society (read: men) apportion to nudity and penis size. Did anyone give thought to what the painting might mean? Or is she deliberately screwing with their egos?
BAM, surrealist redirect with a shout-out to the sex-gender-clouding, artiest art fart feminist himself: Prince. (I say that with the highest respect and hope that he'd grin and side-eye me, if only for how corny I am.) He's the one person who unifies almost every element of this series. I'm still unsure if those surrealist jaunts Spike takes are stylistic notes or trap doors to get out of tough situations.
Opal... The update on the Opal character is certainly realistic in both iterations. But then, the question becomes: Is the problem that this character was written that way, this way, or that there's such a dearth of other stories about people who walk her footsteps? In this show, she might be the only "adult" in Nola's rotation. How would she play next to Jaime, the father figure? Why wasn't Opal invited? All valid questions that don't matter at all because Spike and his team made every effort to express that Nola is not trying to settle down - acted out, in writing, and in soliloquy - so that all of us could understand: Keep. Your. F***ing. Judgement.
That sounds pretty Black as hell and feminist to me.