She’s Gotta Have It
This summer Spike Lee found himself in a familiar place: the news headlines. The 20th anniversary for the release of his masterwork Do the Right Thing fell in August, and this resulted in a steady stream of reminiscence about all the controversy the film caused. All this talk about Thing is fine, but sometimes the film tends to overshadow the rest of Lee’s work. Though his career has been sporadic, Lee has put out a number of other thoughtful movies, including his debut project She’s Gotta Have It.
Like Thing, Have it is set in Lee’s home neighborhood of Bed-Stuy Brooklyn, but this time he chooses to frame the community in an entirely different manner. Instead of being bathed in numerous vibrant colors-as Thing was–Lee places his characters in an environment that is, with one showy exception, starkly black and white. Such an absence of color, along with Lee’s tendency toward longer shots interspersed with frenetic editing, causes Have It to feel a bit like the films of the 1960’s French New Wave; his scenes of Bed-Stuy’s streets and stoops contain especially strong echoes of the Parisian neighborhoods where Jean Luc Godard shot Breathless, considered to be one of the most important New Wave films.
Yet instead of being about conflicted artisans or intellectuals, a trade mark of the hallowed French school, Lee’s screenplay in Have It encompasses a broad range of characters. At its center is Nola Darling (Tracy Camilla Johns), an advertising professional who absurdly carries on relationships with three different men-all of whom are aware that she is unfaithful. The three lovers, Mars Blackmon (Spike Lee), Greer Childs (John Canada Terrell), and Jamie Overstreet (Tommy Redmond Hicks), spend the film trying to convince Darling to ditch her other two partners, but also serve as an allegorical cross section of the Black Male community. Childs, a career obsessed model with a white slicked back hair style, is a rabid assimilationist. Blackmon, marked by goofy glasses and mismatched outfits worn by Buggin Out in Thing, wanders Brooklyn as a rebellious hustler. And Overstreet, who sticks to a collared shirt and jeans, serves as Lee’s Black everyman.
By constructing this foil, Lee allows viewers to think about a host of issues regarding race, gender, and sexuality in America, but while Have it is intellectually provocative it tends be bland in places. Lee attempts to liven the film with various injections of irony, but these are quashed by his overuse of monologues and the generally dispassionate delivery of Have Its cast.
It’s interesting cinema, but don’t expect to be on the edge of your seat.