Spike Lee’s new Netflix series “She’s Gotta Have It” isn’t a remake-for-the-sake-of-remakes type of project. The filmmaker returned to his ’80s feature with purpose, placing an outspoken Nola Darling in a now-gentrified Brooklyn, where her friends are fighting against being forced out of Fort Greene.
“This gentrification thing is no joke,” Spike Lee said as he shifted into a king-size white chair at the Loews Regency Hotel last week. “They’re renaming streets and neighborhoods that have a history. I mean, who can afford to live in New York City anymore? It’s ridiculous. That’s one of the big issues in this new look of ‘She’s Gotta Have It.’ ”
When Lee, 60, produced his first version in 1986, he spent a total of 12 days on the streets of Fort Greene to tell the story of a struggling artist who breaks the mold by juggling three lovers with drastically different personalities. To turn the new version into a 10-episode binge-worthy series, he returned to the same streets two decades later — only they weren’t exactly the same.
“We talk about how Fort Greene Park is now like the Westminster Dog Show, address the rents and the new street names, the ‘New Fort Greene,’ ” Lee said.
In a comical approach, the plotline compares Fort Greene’s new neighbors — perfectly polished white families with teacup-sized dogs — to longstanding residents, which Lee said he couldn’t ignore.
The change in scene, both in the neighborhood and country as a whole 20 years later, also altered — or updated — Nola’s character. Still a budding artist and cinephile living in a beautiful brownstone, Nola sees a “loss of culture” due to the displacement of residents and changed the way she uses her art as self-expression, explained DeWanda Wise, who plays Nola.
An impact of the current political climate and feminist movement gives Wise’s character (played in 1986 by Tracy Camilla Johns) an arguably stronger, more authoritative voice.
“A lot of our viewpoints and opinions surrounding black feminism have shifted, and the quality has changed since ’86,” Wise said. “We’re more voracious, we’re louder and we’re at this crux in our history for women in general where we can no longer be silent.”
In the series, Nola isn’t just juggling romances with the likes of Greer Childs (Cleo Anthony), a self-involved photographer, Mars Blackmon (Anthony Ramos), a free-spirit, and Jamie Overstreet (Lyriq Bent), a married father. She’s using her art to speak out against injustice, harassment and street assault.
“Nola is really just an embodiment of where we’re at right now,” Wise said. “It was kind of my job to bring her into 2017.”
A scene in the first episode, where Nola is catcalled and assaulted blocks from her home sets the tone early on, inspiring the artist to spread self-designed graffiti posters around Brooklyn that read “My Name Ain’t Aye Yo Ma” — one of which she plasters right over an old ’80s advertisement for “She’s Gotta Have It.”
Wise explained that we’ll see Nola endure these “larger and then smaller traumas” that influence who she becomes and the decisions she makes when it comes to her lovers.
“You really see her first in season 1 to be like, ‘No, no, no. This is the woman I am. I will not let you make me become shut off. I’m not gonna let you shut down my expression,’ ” she said. “I really responded to that and I think women around the world will as well.”
Having 10 35-minute-long episodes to work with gave Lee the room to allow Nola’s character to take on a current-day political agenda, he said, adding that he would have never considered remaking the project as a second film version. Still, it may not have even been enough time to tell the full story Lee has in mind for Nola.
“In no way shape or form does season 1 come to the end of the seeds we’ve planted in the first 10,” Lee said.
When asked if he’s planning to circle back to the character in a second season on the streaming service, the filmmaker kissed a silver cross that hung on a chain around his neck and looked up toward the sky.
“She’s Gotta Have It” hit Netflix in full on Thanksgiving.