Thirty years ago, Spike Lee made a movie about a young female artist from Brooklyn who lived life as if she were a man. “She’s Gotta Have It” was made in two weeks for $175,000. The US box-office gross was over $7 million.
Lee, who would go on to make controversial films such as “Do the Right Thing” (1989), reached hip moviegoers with his tale of the freewheeling Nola Darling and her three boyfriends.
The director has updated his urban romance for the Tinder generation in a new Netflix series. The premise and the name are the same but Fort Greene, Lee’s beloved Brooklyn neighborhood, is no longer a predominantly African-American enclave. As the opening credits reveal, high-rise apartment buildings now tower over the tony brownstones that you used to be able to snap up for a song in the 1960s.
DeWanda Wise (“Shots Fired”), who plays Nola, reveals that Lee gave her a Brooklyn orientation before they started shooting the 10-episode series. “We had that experience of walking through the neighborhood and him playing tour guide or historian to give me a perspective for what it must have been like for Nola to grow up and watch her neighborhood change,” says Wise, who lives in Pasadena, Calif.
Nola is a such a Brooklyn girl she still lives on the same block as her parents. She rents an apartment in a brownstone owned by her godmother (played by Pauletta Washington, wife of Denzel). That is the only conventional thing about her, though. When it comes to love, Nola gets what she wants when she wants it. Her boyfriends are Greer Childs (Cleo Anthony), a pretty boy with a deluxe apartment, Mars Blackmon (Anthony Ramos), a bike messenger who has known Nola for years, and Jamie Overstreet (Lyriq Bent), an older, unhappily married man.
It’s a lot to keep straight but Wise, who describes herself as a “serial monogamist” married to actor Alano Miller, has a system for sorting it all out. “Mars not only makes her laugh but he is the guy she can be around that represents home and Brooklyn and comfort and familiarity,” she says. “Greer, in addition to being an excellent f–k buddy, introduces her to certain culture and worlds that she doesn’t get from Mars. And Jamie represents, ill advised or not, considering he’s married, stability and for lack of a better phrase, a paternal love and affection.”
There wouldn’t be much of a series if “She’s Gotta Have It” merely copied the movie. Lee, who directed all episodes, introduces a disturbing storyline in which Nola is nearly assaulted by a stranger while walking home from a girlfriend’s apartment in the neighborhood. The attack prompts Nola to launch a street art campaign protesting gender-based street harassment, a storyline inspired by Lee’s discovery of the work of Tatyana Fazlalizadeh.
“Spike sees this poster saying Stop Telling Women to Smile. So he flips on his Instagram and asks,‘Who is this?’ And he finds Tatyana. All of Nola’s work in the series is painted by her. Nola’s street campaign is in direct homage to Tatyana.”
Though Wise will not say if Nola keeps all her boyfriends, she says the ramifications from the hostile street encounter will play out. “We women endure these kind of traumas and they’re stuffed down somewhere. They’re forgotten about,” she says. “It’s so destructive. Spike brings that to light and explores it. We watch Nola fight to continue to be herself.”
“She’s Gotta Have It” debuts November 23 on Netflix