She’s Gotta Have It (1986)

“It’s really about control, my body, my mind. Who was going to own it? Them? Or me? I’m not a one-man woman. Bottom line.”

‘She’s Gotta Have It’, directed by Spike Lee in 1986, is an American comedy drama set in the black community in Brooklyn, New York City. Tracy Camilla Johns plays Nola Darling, an independent woman who is having a sexual relationship with three men: Jamie, a serious but boring professional, Greer, a vain and narcissistic male model and Mars, a man-child played by Lee. The three men are aware of each other and, during Thanksgiving, get together with Nola. Jamie issues an ultimatum that she must choose one of them, which leads to her coming to an unusual decision. Lee mixes mock-interview footage of the characters with raw, intimate scenes of the three couples together. His style is free-ranging, mostly the film is in black-and-white apart from a fantastical musical scene in colour, but the overall impression is of a movie made by someone who loves his home city. The treatment of characters, the style of humour, and the fetishization of New York is similar to Woody Allen, but there is the sense of moving beyond the middle and upper-middle class white society of Allen in Lee’s film. Nola’s independence is, mostly, presented as a positive thing, the generally relaxed (albeit with one jarring moment of violence) attitudes of the three men suggest a normalised state of being for the main character. The humour is also rich, the three men are presented as having a series of quirks and foibles that presents Nola with a complete man through their combination: Jamie’s maturity, Mars’s sense of fun and Greer’s body. This turns the film into a kind of ‘Wizard of Oz’ story, with the hidden wizard presented as Nola’s decision and her final admission that monogamy is not for her.

Would I recommend it? Yes – it’s a raw but efficient presentation of a set of characters, and the central character is charismatic. You care what happens in her life, despite the ridiculous personalities she has hooked up with. Watch in a double bill with ‘Tongues Untied’, a documentary that presents a different sort of freedom on the opposite side of America.

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