She’s Gotta Have It: 80s Feminism and General Sexiness

Intro by Brandon

She’s Gotta Have It is an early independent film from prominent and brilliant filmmaker Spike Lee. If you’re not familiar with him, kind of like Maria and me before watching this, Spike Lee was an indie film darling long before Wes Anderson and Quentin Tarrantino had their debuts, and this film, while operating on a shoestring budget, had some intelligent things to say about being a woman in the 80s.

The plot focuses on Nola Darling, a young black woman living in the city and juggling three men in her sex life. That sounds like a wacky sitcom, but the film uses this set-up to talk about how life for women was rapidly changing in the 80s. Women were gaining independence quickly, and for the first time in, well, forever, women didn’t actually need men. So this film is about that, and it’s also about how men dealt with that—which is to say, poorly.

The film is sprinkled with things like jazz music and little bits of 80s urban culture that give this a real depth beyond a low-budget indie film. Lee captured the black experience in a way that was deeply human and relatable, and the characters in this film just feel like people, which is refreshing in a sea of movies where most characters have to be defined by one or two traits.

The film’s not perfect. There were some technical flubs and a few bits of sloppy acting or editing, and there was one really out-of-place assault scene in the film that both Maria and I had a problem with. But overall, this was a good film, especially considering how low the budget was and how different it was from other films of its time.

So get ready for us to dig into this early entry from Spike Lee and talk about how life for women was changing in the 80s in this episode of Peculiar Picture Show, the podcast that talks about movies, maladies, and mental health.

Show Notes

Overall Thoughts: Spike Lee provides some smart commentary on feminism in the 80s

B: Small-budget indie film that does a lot; influenced culture, particularly Spike Lee’s character

M: First Spike Lee film; controversial/shocking because of the time

Like: An intellectual film that’s unapologetically black

B: Intellectual film; soundtrack, the jazz; feminist thoughts timely and thoughtful; unapologetically black without having to explain it

M: Intellectual and literary; many parts of this movie are feminist, challenging the trope of “easy women” being worthless, specifically black women being sexual; movie is not necessarily focused on racism or otherness or blackness, but it is still very much black because it is integrating this normality into the black experience

Dislike: Some technical missteps and a really out-of-place rape scene

B: Rape scene made me cringe; some technical flaws and some flaws in narrative

M: Odd rape scene with weird outcome that seems to ruin the ending; as if I was watching someone’s film thesis (but not really a bad thing); boring

Mental Health: Sexuality in women is frowned upon and it shouldn’t be

B: Strongly feminist film: each man mistreats Nola in different yet similar ways; Jaime is old fashioned and values conformity; Mars doesn’t see Nola as anything serious but is also old fashioned in how he views sex and gender roles; Greer most misogynistic because women aren’t complete without men, also about traditional gender roles

M: Sex addiction; evidence isn’t that Nola is addicted to sex but typical thinking can be female sexual drive is considered a mental illness/sex addiction


B: This was very much an intellectual film—everything from the soundtrack to the themes, and comparing this to early indie films by Wes Anderson or Quentin Tarantino, I think this is right on the money for that. It absolutely stands up with these films. And this one came first, so I think it’s fair to say that Spike Lee was one of the original inspirations for these future indie darlings.

B: Nola is dating these three men, and […] all of these men mistreat her, but all of the mistreatment is about Nola’s rejection of traditional gender roles.

M: It challenged the trope of easy women being worthless, specifically easy black women. When women are sexual and they like sex, they are often demonized and thought of as easy and not worth it. Nola definitely has to battle against that, and I think the film tries to make a good statement challenging that.

Next Movie

Love & Other Drugs (2010)

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