Sunday 27 January 2019

1,001 Films: "She's Gotta Have It" (1986)

She's Gotta Have It was Spike Lee's breakthrough film: a still-strikingly fresh and sexy comedy, shot in vérité-style monochrome, about the bedroom antics of one Nola Darling (the breezy Tracy Camilla Johns), a young New Yorker seemingly irresistible to women, men and boys alike. For those who've queried this director's sexual politics over the years, it'll be something of a relief to see Lee sympathising with his heroine over and above those men making fools of themselves in trying to possess or impress Nola; Lee casts himself as the stereotypical hip-hop head Mars Blackmon - a jittery nerd who keeps his sneakers on in bed - and lets a poet (Tommy Redmond Hicks) and a poseur (John Canada Terrell) duke it out for Nola's affections. Variable male performances are a weakness, but where later Lee films would be marked out by an intensely politicised anger that owed something to blaxploitation, this full-length debut was distinguished by a quiet, scholarly appreciation of all things cultural - photography, literature, painting, poetry, dance (framed in glorious, Oz-inspired Technicolor) - which makes the film a Brooklyn equivalent to Une Femme est une Femme, and positioned its director (misleadingly?) as the black Godard.

She's Gotta Have It is currently unavailable on DVD, but streaming via Netflix, alongside the first season of the recent TV remake.

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