Thirty years ago, Spike Lee began his career on the independent filmmaking scene with his groundbreaking look at Nola Darling, a free-spirited artist making it happen for herself in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Now, Nola Darling returns in a timely, contemporary and topical update of the Academy Award-nominated director’s She’s Gotta Have It, a 10-episode Netflix series. Technically, it’s an update of Lee’s 1986 debut film.
She’s Gotta Have It centres on Nola Darling (DeWanda Wise), a Brooklyn-based artist in her late twenties struggling to define herself and divide her time among her friends, her job and her three lovers: The cultured model Greer Childs (Cleo Anthony), the protective investment banker Jamie Overstreet (Lyriq Beats) and the original b-boy sneakerhead, Mars Blackmon (Anthony Ramos).
Lee directed the entire series and serves as creator and executive producer along with his wife, Tonya Lewis Lee, who is also executive producer.
Global News spoke to Lee and Wise about the Netflix adaptation of She’s Gotta Have It.
Global News: Can you explain the story of She’s Gotta Have It for the people who haven’t watched the original from 1986?
Spike Lee: Well, Nola Darling is a young, struggling artist and she’s seeing three men at the same time, so it’s really turning this whole thing on its head about sexual conduct. Women are expected one way but men can do whatever they want, so, that’s basically what the original film was about.
Global News: What was it like to revisit the story 30 years later, with a whole new vibe to the storyline?
Spike Lee: It was a pleasure and it was an honour, a blessing. It’s not often you go back to revisit something and do it in a totally different way. She’s Gotta Have It, the film, was my very first film and it was done on a very limited budget, no budget at all .
And to come back 30 years, you see people grow… now I’m a father and a husband and the world has changed. Women have changed, impact women, they are being recognized more.
So to get this opportunity now, and a lot of times I think timing is everything. And for whatever reason, this is the right time now for this show.
Global News: You shot the original film in 12 days. How long did it take to shoot this 10-part series?
Spike Lee: It took 63 days and a little bit of a money. We had a little bit of that Netflix money.
DeWanda Wise: He has money, but Spike is indie all day so…
Global News: The original movie really changed what it meant to be empowered as a woman. DeWanda, can you speak to who Nola Darling is today in the Netflix series and how she’s changed from the original film?
DeWanda Wise: I think the moment we’re in, it’s only actually this season specifically, has clarified who Nola is and what she stands for. Even having that distance of filming this time last year and seeing it now on screen for the first time, it’s quite profound. Women now, I feel we’ve been pushed to this position in a way, where we have to be as clear and vocal and transparent and loud and really fill into the full power and capacity of our voices.
Someone just asked if we thought that Nola considered herself a feminist, and I think what’s interesting now, especially now, is feminism, the simple definition that we are entitled to the same rights, privileges and civil liberties as men, whether that’s speaking on wages or having autonomy and power over our bodies… we’re at this position where we’re really having to fight for it in a way that, historically, I won’t say we haven’t been here before, but it’s really at a crossroads in multiple ways at the same time.
She stands for a lot of things that I really stand for and it’s been an honour to embody Nola.
Global News: With all of the sexual assault allegations coming out of Hollywood, I feel like watching this series made me, as a woman, feel strong because of the way Nola handled the cat calling with her street campaign and the way she responded to the men’s reaction to her black dress. The series really shined a light on the modern female experience. How do you think other viewers will react to this?
DeWanda Wise: I mean, it’s so right. Over the past couple of weeks, I have felt simultaneously the sense of sisterhood and release from the “Me Too” hashtags. And at the same time it’s harrowing, the process of reading these accounts and listening to the stories of these women.
I had an experience in film, that I kid you not, resurfaced on my IMDb. I had blocked it from my memory, I had completely repressed the memory. So it’s an interesting juxtaposition of feeling empowered and also just feeling exhausted. What’s inspiring about Nola is you do see her fight to process it and to turn it into — as you mentioned, through her street campaign — this thing for all of us and any of us, woman or man, who has experienced the same kind of trauma in daily dirge, because it is this nearly daily experience for women.
Global News: The series touched on everything from sexism to the current political climate in the United States. What is the universal message you’d like for viewers to take away from watching the series?
Spike Lee: I can answer that question very quickly, because I don’t try to give take-away messages. I respect the audience’s intelligence too much and I don’t have to tell them what they should take away from the series. People can take away different things depending upon who you are, your background and all the other stuff, so it’s kind of foolish to dictate what the take-away could be or should be. Let them figure it out, if there’s any takeaways at all.
DeWanda Wise: They could just be like, ‘That was hilarious, I liked it!’
Spike Lee: It might not be deeper than that for some people.
Global News: I fell in love with Mars. Do you think a lot of people will be drawn to him, or do you think that everyone will have their own favourite out of the three men?
Spike Lee: You know, that’s been a debate… what will the audience go for? I think there’s going to be a “Team Mars,” a “Team Greer,” and a “Team Jamie.”
Global News: Oh absolutely, there will be hashtags for the teams, for sure.
Spike Lee: And there will definitely be a “Team Nola.”
Global News: If you could each describe the series in one word, what would it be?
Spike Lee: Dope!
Dewanda Wise: Lit!
Spike Lee: Have you watched Episode 10 yet?
Global News: No, it’s the last episode, I’m going to watch it today.
Spike Lee: Oh, you’re not going to be ready for that one. You’re not going to be ready!
‘She’s Gotta Have It’ is available for streaming on Netflix on Nov. 23.
© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.