There’s no one quite like Spike Lee as a director; like the best out there, you know immediately when you’re watching one of his films. It’s pretty incredible that this is true even with this week’s pick, his earliest film. And that, for this same feature, he wrote the line “We let her create a three-headed, six-armed, six-legged, three-penised monster.” Truly a contender for the most Spike Lee moment of this very clearly Spike Lee film.
She’s Gotta Have It
A Brooklyn artist is content with having three lovers at once…but the men involved may not be quite so chill about this arrangement.
A young artist living in Brooklyn on her own (before it became unlivably expensive), Nola Darling is a woman interested in pushing boundaries. She’s ready to tell her own story, speaking directly to the camera to do so.
However, it’s not long before others begin to chime in–it seems virtually everyone has an opinion about Nola. Those voicing the loudest concerns are three men, all of whom Nola has been involved with romantically: Jamie, Mars, and Greer.
Right away, it seems as though Jamie is the most sincere of Nola’s love interests and your classic romantic lead who believes in things like true love and soul mates. Oh, how a first glance can deceive. Though Jamie’s first meeting with Nola is framed as a rom-com meet-cute when he follows her while waiting for a bus, it creeped me out so much. I’m sorry, but it was not dating apps that “killed romance”–it was definitely behavior like this.
Far from Jamie’s character is Mars, a young Spike Lee who jokes a mile a minute, never taking anything too seriously. Meanwhile, aspiring model Greer embodies very white, middle-class obsessions with self-improvement, health, and his own looks.
While Nola brings all three men into her bed at different times, she identifies as heterosexual, gently turning down the advances of her friend Opal. Nevertheless, Jamie shows a jealous streak. Nola’s disdain of monogamy becomes a problem for all three of her lovers, but her charm is enough to keep the peace for a while.
I’m not going to lie…there’s not a whole lot to the plot beyond this. There’s a somewhat bizarre musical interlude for Nola’s birthday, and she makes the decision to bring together her lovers for a Thanksgiving feast (not a euphemism). The Thanksgiving decision exists almost entirely for the three men to make petty jokes at each other’s expense, and I’m not mad about it.
Ultimately, Jamie’s jealous streak takes over, and he demands that Nola choose to be with him exclusively. Even though she agrees, I think you can guess how long that relationship lasts.
4/5 Pink Panther Heads
Spike Lee’s first film may feel somewhat unpolished and meandering, but it’s an impressive movie nevertheless.
We really can’t talk about it without discussing Nola’s rape, which is presented more or less as an aside (and since there seem to be different ways of describing this scene, Spike Lee himself refers to this as a rape scene). It’s a scene that is very much there for the story and to reinforce our feelings about Jamie, but not so much to recognize Nola’s feelings during or after.
And, I’ll be honest, despite the feminist themes, there are a LOT of topless scenes featuring Nola’s breasts that feel very male gaze-y. I do appreciate that Lee has no interest in a sleazy male fantasy lesbian scene between Nola and Opal…but I do wish he had made the decision for the two to actually get together (especially since this is supposedly what happens in the Netflix series).
For all of its issues, this film is a refreshing celebration of different ways to express Blackness, a vibrant Brooklyn neighborhood, and Black women living on their own terms. As much as the film is about Nola, it’s also a calling out of men engaging in problematic behavior, even–and especially–when they consider their behavior a reflection of love. All three of the men Nola loves try to change or control her while labeling it love. No wonder Nola rejects the narrative of monogamous romance.
Btw, three-penised monster is not a phrase you want to Google when you can’t remember the exact quote from the film.