In 1986, the first feature length film by director Spike Lee ushered in a new wave of independent cinema as well as changed the view of African Americans on the big screen in the film She’s Gotta Have It.
Starring Tracy Camilla Johns as Nola Darling, this woman is independent and wants to have a life that is usually slotted only for men – being in charge of her life and having three boyfriends.
But the boys aren’t liking this – polite Jamie (Tommy Redmond Hicks), self-obsessed Greer (John Canada Terrell) and immature Mars (Spike Lee) all want Nola Darling for themselves.
Each man provides something in her life and she enjoys having the variety and the differences. All three are invited for Thanksgiving dinner, which each of them use as an opportunity to prove to Nola why they should be the only man in her life.
Cherishing her freedom and wanting to have the power to be an individual, Nola’s character was uniquely different from the way African Americans had been portrayed on the screen – she wasn’t poor or a whore or a drug addict – nor were her suitors.
Made for less than $200,000 and shot in 12 days in summer 1985 in Brooklyn, the film released in August 1986 and quickly became the topic of discussion by critics coast to coast.
Lee’s commentary on African Americans, women and relationships came under fire by many who felt that it was exploitative and wasn’t a real concern, but viewers loved this film.
She’s Gotta Have It pushed Spike Lee into the spotlight – with a box office of $7.1 million, his film career was happily launched.
And for those of us who liked or didn’t like the film, it encouraged a new indie film scene that definitely made the difference.