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June 28, 2012

She’s Gotta Have It

by Franz Patrick

She’s Gotta Have It (1986)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Nola Darling (Tracy Camilla Johns) had three boyfriends: mild-mannered Jamie (Tommy Redmond Hicks), funny-man Mars (Spike Lee), and narcissistic Greer (John Canada Terrell). What was refreshing about “She’s Gotta Have It,” written, edited, and directed by Spike Lee, was its attitude toward real relationships and how real people would react given a set of real circumstances. The picture didn’t pretend about knowing all the answers either. Sometimes its characters made decisions that wouldn’t necessarily make sense to us, thereby highlighting its themes of individuality and independence. Most of us are familiar with situations like a friend going back to her ex-boyfriend even though, from our perspective, the transgression seems unforgivable. Since each of the men knew that Nola kept her options open, there was no syrupy drama regarding the rules of dating, usually noxious to the comedy genre involving finding and losing romance. Nola wasn’t perfect but she wasn’t stupid either. Upon first glance, one would wonder why she would be attracted to someone like Mars. Apart from his scrawny physical appearance, he wasn’t financially successful like Greer nor was he as sensitive to a woman’s physical and emotional needs like Jamie. But upon closer examination, when the camera focused on Nola and Mars spending time together, having a good time in bed, and talking about silly things, it was easy to see that Mars had something to offer. Unlike Greer or Jamie, Mars was a natural pill of happiness. We’ve all been around someone, whether that someone is a friend or something more, who seems to just lift up our spirits so effortlessly. The unexplainable click is the magic that allows a relationship to go beyond looks and measures of success. I admired the film because it took the time in carefully getting to know each of the main player yet it kept enough surprises along the way that reminded us that although a person’s flaws might irritate us to the bone, flaws also keep us interested. Spice is interesting; perfection is boring. But what made me love the film was its honest attitude about sex. Here was a movie about adults dealing with adult problems. Instead traversing a puerile avenue in terms of being physically intimate with another person–a fart joke here, a penis joke there–the images utilized made a case that sex was an expression of, not necessarily love, but ownership of a moment in time when a man and woman were in charge of what made them feel good. Yes, the sex scenes were shot in slow motion and there was nudity, but they were never gratuitous. If anything, the techniques employed were loyal to the film’s encompassing themes about self-empowerment. One character that did not get enough screen time, however, was Opal (Raye Dowell), a lesbian who was attracted to Nola. Nola asked Opal what it felt like to be with another woman. Opal confided just enough in order to keep the mystery, hoping that she would successfully bed her curious friend. “She’s Gotta Have It” was smart and fiercely eloquent. Don’t be fooled by its black-and-white cinematography. Its scope, concepts, and execution were as pavonine as a sixty-four pack of Crayola crayons.


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