The '80s classic and debut movie from filmmaker Spike Lee captivated audiences across the country with its unapologetic portrayal of a self-proclaimed “sex-positive, polyamorous pansexual,” named Nola Darling. She's Gotta Have It has been adapted into a Netflix TV show, premiering Nov. 23. The groundbreaking movie was an artistic take on something rarely seen on screen at the time: black women being carefree and sexy. The film has become a cult classic since its release. A 2017 version would have to make some changes, but just how different is the She's Gotta Have It show from the movie? Spoilers ahead!
While it's definitely an updated version — set in a much more gentrified Fort Greene than the original — the reboot, overall, stays true to its source material. Living as a painter, the carefree Nola Darling (DeWanda Wise) juggles beaus Jamie Overstreet (Lyriq Bent), rich, suave, married; Greer Childs (Cleo Anthony), vain but cultured; and Mars Blackmon (Anthony Ramos), the comical wild child moving between grant applications and various side hustles to make ends meet. While the movie is all about Nola and sex, the series shines a spotlight on Nola the person. Here are the five key differences between the reboot and the original:
1. It's Told Through The Eyes Of Black Women
Although the film was way ahead of its time because of the subject matter, it was still told through the gaze of a man. The scenes, dialogue, and viewpoints were all influenced by what a man thought a sexually-liberated woman living her best life in the late '80s must be like. Fortunately, the 2017 version does a complete 180. With the show’s writing staff dominated by women of color, including playwrights Lynn Nottage and Eisa Davis, the black woman's viewpoint is front and center in this reboot.
The female influence is most evident in Nola's artwork, which depicts variations of the female body and references the street harassment women face daily. Additionally according to Los Angeles Times, scenes from the pilot were reshot to incorporate more male nudity to counterbalance the female nudity, at the insistence of Tonya Lewis Lee, an executive producer on the series.
2. Nola Now Has A Fourth Lover
In addition to her best friend Clorinda, Nola (Tracy Camilla Johns) also has a lesbian friend named Opal in the original film. Opal wants Nola bad in the movie and, unfortunately, she is portrayed as nothing more than an aggressive man-hater. The series greatly improves in this area by completely ditching the tired stereotypes about the LGBTQ+ community and actually makes Opal (Ilfenesh Hadera) a mature, caring, and real fourth lover to Nola.
3. A Timely #MeToo Scene Was Added
The original She's Gotta Have It was critcized for its infamous rape scene. Fed up with her refusal to commit, one of Nola's suitors rapes her during a completely unnecessary scene in the otherwise feminist movie. Over the years Spike Lee has said that, including during a recent interview with The Hollywood Reporter that he regrets including this scene. Fortunately, the director rights his wrongs by eliminating that particular plot point in the new series.
Instead of the rape, at the end of the first episode Nola is grabbed by a man on the street, and this #MeToo moment both rattles and inspires her. She begins to make more provocative artwork and kickstarts a journey of self-introspection. Best of all the incident and Nola's newfound clarity gives the writers a chance to touch on and dispel all the ridiculous ways society blames women for harassment, like the age-old question: "How were you dressed when it happened?"
4. Nola Actually Picks Up A Paintbrush
It's ironic that, in a a movie all about an artist, the original Nola never actually creates any art. While she talks a lot about creating, she never actually creates art in the 85-minute film. But in the Netflix series viewers see Nola's artsy chops in action: from the powerful street art she creates after being harassed to the body-positive portraits she paints of herself and her friends. The movie is all about the sex, but the series is about the work, which is great to see.
5. Family And Friendships Are Now At The Forefront
In the '80s, Nola's fearless sexuality and dealings with three lovers at once were "really shocking," to viewers, but today it's "not such a big deal," Lewis Lee told Rotten Tomatoes. Because of this, the writing staff took the opportunity to flesh out who Nola is as a person and not just as a lover. The series explores the sometimes tumultuous, but close relationships between Nola and her girlfriends through brunches, yoga classes, and wine nights. Wise told Rotten Tomatoes in the same interview that this was her favorite part of the update.
“I’ve always grown up with really strong female friendships,” Wise said. “That’s what I’m accustomed to and I just feel like it’s a glaring omission in the cinematic landscape to act like … women are [only] at each other’s throats. We’re here and we’re present."
Additionally, interactions with Nola's parents, rambunctious neighbors, and the talented art students Nola teaches at a public elementary school are weaved throughout the 10episodes.
Fans who love She's Gotta Have It should be content with this small screen adaptation, which doesn't twist the original film to a place where it's unrecognizable. Instead the reboot simply adds a little something extra and gives an honest interpretation of what it's like for a black woman to live in today's political, racial, and social climate.
If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673) or visit online.rainn.org.