Spike Lee, Tonya Lewis Lee and Dewanda Wise Talk Netflix’s She’s Gotta Have It

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Spike Lee, Tonya Lewis Lee and Dewanda Wise Talk Netflix’s She’s Gotta Have It
Posted by Wilson Morales

November 24, 2017

Currently streaming on Netflix since Thanksgiving is their latest series “She’s Gotta Have It,” which is based on Spike Lee‘s acclaimed 1986 film of the same name and starring actress DeWanda Wise (“Shots Fired,” “Underground”) in the lead role.

The 10-episode series is a contemporary update of Spike Lee’s revolutionary debut independent film. She’s Gotta Have It centers on Nola Darling, a Brooklyn-based artist in her late twenties struggling to define herself and divide her time amongst her Friends, her Job and her Three Lovers: The Cultured Model, Greer Childs, The Protective Investment Banker, Jamie Overstreet and Da Original B-Boy Sneakerhead, Mars Blackmon.

Lee is directing the entire series and serves as creator and executive producer along with his producer wife Tonya Lewis Lee, who will also executive produce. The series is expected to air this fall with no specific date set as of yet.

In the upcoming series DeWanda Wise is starring as Nola Darling; Cleo Anthony is Greer Childs; Anthony Ramos is Mars Blackmon; Lyriq Bent is Jamie Overstreet; Margot Bingham is Clorinda Bradford; Chyna Layne is Shemekka Epps; Sydney Morton is Sheryl Overstreet and Ilfenesh Hadera as Opal Gilstrap.

Very recently, Spike Lee, Tonya Lewis Lee and Dewanda Wise spoke about putting together this series.

How did you guys decide that this film was going to be a TV series and why this film?

Tonya Lewis Lee: Spike and I were talking about working together on something. We hadn’t worked together in awhile. And at the time he was really talking about gentrification in Fort Greene and his frustrations with that, very passionately speaking out about that. I would say well let’s figure out how to put it in the work, what you’re talking about. Show people so that they understand what you’re talking about. And then it just went from there.

And then it was let’s think about what does a woman like Nola Darling. What’s her life like in 2017? Our world has changed very much in the 30 years since Nola you know, first appeared. So, the idea to be able to explore this black woman’s life in gentrified Fort Greene just seemed right.

So in the 1986 film and then the adaptation that you did of current day, what did you want to make of the difference or did you want to keep it, just, on the same page? Is there anything different that you wanted to do with the series?

Tonya Lewis Lee: I think the series is a jumping off point. We didn’t recreate the movie, right? We really wanted to see what Nola would be like in 2017. And so it is different, right. I mean the way … I think 30 years ago, it was really shocking for a woman to have multiple lovers and be okay with that. Today that’s not such a big deal, right? I think that being able to look at Nola’s life in episodic television, you get a chance to really experience her fully. You could really understand her as an artist. You know, understand her relationships aren’t just sexual. Understand who she really is as a full-fledged woman. So I hope that’s a new accomplishment

In terms of those new relationships that aren’t sexual, one of my favorite things from this series is the introduction of the girlfriends.

Tonya Lewis Lee: Mine too.

Yeah, that’s such an important voice to add to this. Could you speak to that just in terms of what you wanted from this choir of girlfriends?

Tonya Lewis Lee: Yeah, well I think, often on television, we see black women going at each other. And I think it is really important that Nola had some female relationships, that she wasn’t a woman that only got with men. And that her girlfriends really mattered. And that they are all very different. Nola is very much who she is.

Clorinda is very different. Shemekka is another different woman. So it was really great to be able to explore some of the diversity of who we are as women in the series as well

I want to know if Nola Darling considers herself a modern day feminist; and I want to know what Nola Darling 1986 would tell Nola Darling 2017 about sex and money.

Spike Lee: Well, I would just say quick. One of the things that Nola was not talking about is AIDS. Timing is everything. I never heard of AIDS when I wrote the script in ’85. The film came out in ’86. AIDS starts to explode later. I would indeed be responsible to do that film. This Nola would have told that Nola about AIDS.

DeWanda Wise: I was like Spike, does Nola use condoms? And he was like of course! Of course! Let’s get some wrappers on this set. They might not have a close-up but they are on the bed stand.

Spike Lee: That was one of the prop’s jobs.

DeWanda Wise: It was. Had to have them wrappers.

Does she consider herself a modern day feminist?

Spike Lee: There’s another element because when the film came out, it was not universally loved. Their were major feminists who felt that the known stereotype of the black woman; the same old characterization of the oversexed black woman, people like was present. On the other hand you have black women who were happy about their representation on the screen. So it’s never going to be … Especially with my films and dealing with black folks, this is never going to be like everybody will think the same. It’ll be interesting to see what the old feminists and the new feminists say about Nola Darling’s character.

Speaking about that, how does one prepare to be a sex-positive pansexual?

Spike Lee: You know, I didn’t know that either. I don’t know what means.

A Sex Positive Pansexual having sex scenes of three men and one woman.

DeWanda Wise: There’s no preparation. I think you’re either the kind of artist who is … I think part of the reason I’m here is because I’m a bold artist. I believe in storytelling. I believe in filling out the life of these dope characters. So it’s an honor to step into that space and live in the kind of freedom that Nola lives and breathes and walks in. Thank goodness. Fortunately, I was never raised with body shame. I was never raised to … My mother was like ‘friend-mom’. So I was never raised with the kind of conditioning, the stigma of sex. It was something we talked about. So my point of view on Nola came from a place of love and understanding, whether or not I’ve ever dated guys at once. Or I’ve been married more than I am is kind of besides the point, if that makes sense.

What was the biggest slap in the face or harder thing to do when you was making this?

Spike Lee: It wasn’t hard because I never approached the TV as making a TV Series, I approached it like making a long movie. I told everybody the way it was shot, it was a cinematic approach, not television. People want to watch it like this, but they’re missing out because this is done per frame. People’s big screen TV’s is what this is made for.

Although you directed all the episodes, each episode was written by a different person. How was that process like?

Spike Lee: Here’s the thing though, and I’ll keep saying this, which people tend to forget. The film was only 86 minutes. We have a bigger canvas. And so, it was very important that women be in the room. Women like Lynn Nottage, who has won two Pulitzer Prizes. Her play is “Ruined” and “Sweat.” Eisa Davis is an accomplished playwright. Radha Blank, My sister’s Joie Lee. Tonya had her notes in there. Even my daughter; so we didn’t want to be hit with that, this whole thing is told through a male gaze, which the original film was based because I wrote it. I directed it. I was in it. But this is totally different so we wanted those type of writers, black women, in the room.

Is this a boutique series or do you see a future with Netflix with this project?

Spike Lee: It’s up to them. I see two or three seasons more. I never had the mindset this would be the one and done thing. I want to keep it going.

As far as the characters, I see that you re-created your role of Mars Blackmon as a Latino. Why?

Spike Lee: I was trying to make Mars Blackmon as different as possible.

Tonya Lewis Lee: I think it was for everybody, the qualification, the update of Greer. And making him a man closer to say, a prince. And his sexual orientation and his manner, that is something that is very 2017 and wasn’t our Greer in ’86 was a straight up meathead so our Greer is very different. The Jamie we have now. Jamie is now married. He wasn’t married back in the other 86’ film.

In terms of the writer’s room, because this is so expansive on Nola’s life, and it’s your day-to-day, did the women writers bring anything to the table that surprised you? And that you put in her day-to-day experience?

Spike Lee: It was surprising. They were there for that reason. I mean, it was not just like let’s ask women. We wanted black, African-American women’s input. We wanted them in the room.

Tonya Lewis Lee : But sometimes men don’t know what men don’t know.

Spike Lee: Right. And that’s why they’re there for that reason.

Tonya Lewis Lee: It did get a little intense sometimes because men don’t know what they don’t know, and sometimes they don’t even understand it when you explain it to them.

Can you talk about your use of music and why you had the covers of the albums pictured in the series?

Spike Lee: Because it’s dope, but to answer your question, I understood that there were going to be a lot of people who might not approve of various artists Some people know who the artist are and others that don’t know these artists and I wanted to give love to those artists. It’s a shout out. To answer your question further, there’s 14 types of music that might brought back. Some of the original score which my father wrote back in the original film, Bill Lee, he did all the scores in my NYU film school. “Do the Right Thing” ,” Mo Better Blues”… He did all the scores. And you have new music by Bruce Hornsby. You have songs by established artists. And then I put out a call out on my Instagram for unsigned artists. So 6,500 submissions. I listened to every single song. Not the entire song, not the ones that the songs with choruses like ‘bitch, ho, suck my dick.’

How did you interpret Nola for your performance? And if you can just give me one scene that you felt that pushed you as an actor?

DeWanda Wise: You know I have a very nerdy, went to school at NYU, process. And it’s very script-analysis. I had ten fantastic scripts. So it’s very basic. It’s like what do people say? What does she say about herself? What time are we in? Where are we at? How does that impact? What are these references? Let me look at this movie, so that when I’m talking about it, I know what I’m talking about.

Spike Lee: So you watched Rashomon?

DeWanda Wise: I did watch Rashomon. Absolutely. I watched all that shit. So it, you know. I have this intellectual understanding, and then I just have an inexplicable instinct, guttural, visceral, now I get to live and breathe in the skin of this woman, understanding once all that work is done. As for a moment. This is what Spike do. I’ll tell you what Spike do.

Spike be like, you get to sit, right? And he’ll be like, hey so, you have like three pages of voiceover, right? He’s like yeah, so that is going to be direct addressed to camera now. And you’re like. After it happened the first time, I was like, nope. I have to memorize every word. Every word. Should I memorize the stage directions? I might memorize the stage directions. He keeps you on your toes. So every day is this beautiful challenge, right? If it wasn’t a challenge, it wouldn’t have nearly been as satisfying and fun. Someone asked me about this scene we did, and you haven’t seen it yet, probably, because I think it’s in 9. But we were rotating at that moment.

Spike Lee: Where you’re screaming on the phone?

DeWanda Wise: Right, where it’s like onto the air that. On the chair, yeah. And he was like how many takes did you do? And I was like, two. I did a take in white and a take in orange. You made a fool of me because, thankfully, by that point, we had already been moving at Spike pace.

He’s still 20 years old.  It’s an athletic approach where you just have to stay on your toes and stay at the ready. I had the best time working on it than I ever had in my life.

In a time in Hollywood where misogyny and just a lot of prejudices around gendered things and everything like that is really at a high, but it seems like you use your character to promote female empowerment and the female being liberated and not being compartmentalized by anything. How important is that to you? Especially in this time when it’s like the narrative …

Spike Lee: It’s very important again that’s why we had women writers. We had women writers in the room writing the script so that we could not be criticized with the complaint that his whole thing is seen through the male gaze?

Tonya Lewis Lee: I want to go even back further, right? Spike is walking down the streets of Fort Greene, Brooklyn, and he sees these signs up that an artist has put up. That say don’t tell me to smile. And he said what is that? What artist put that up. He tracks the artist down, a woman named Tatiana. He sits down and has a conversation about her artwork. He’s really moved by what she’s doing, and he decides to put that in the film, which is so fascinating at this time because he’s giving her a larger platform for her voice to weigh in on this conversation that is happening right now before we even knew the conversation was going to be happening right now. And it’s really, again, I’m married  to Spike and and as you see, we don’t all get along.

Spike Lee: We don’t?

Tonya Lewis Lee: But I just have to give him kudos for that. Because Tatiana put out a call. She started the conversation. And Spike answered it. And he took it further for her. And how many men do that?

Spike Lee: And also, she did all the artwork for the show.

Tonya Lewis Lee: All her work. Anytime you see Nola painting, Tatiana was on set, right there, making sure everything was as authentic and specific and real as possible.

There’s so much packed in each episode that I give credit to the editor because every scene is like watching a movie like you said. Can you talk about working with the editor putting this together and what was left out per episode?

Spike Lee: You really want to write a 30 page script. It’s usually a page a minute. And the great thing about Netflix is there’s no time limits so they’re not going to kill us it is 34, 35, 36 minutes versus network, you got to like stick to the page limit. But Netflix. Yeah, so that was very gratifying that we didn’t have a tight time limit. And the ten episodes really gave us the canvas to show. For example, I don’t remember if there’s a scene where Nola is doing any art in the film.

There’s a mural behind her the first time Mars comes into the apartment, but other than that, you don’t see her being an artist and the struggle. I was saying this earlier, the young Basquiat, Keith Herron, David Byrne, they cannot afford to live in New York City today. And New York is going to be short of great artists because they’re going to go to Detroit. You can buy a house for five dollars in Detroit, I mean like, nothing. You can go to Portland. Just a bunch of investment bankers, And unless something is done about, I mean for me the one thing we have to do to combat gentrification is to have affordable housing for people. I mean who can afford to live here anymore? No one ever talks about the displacement of the people, brown people, who lived in South Bronx, who lived in Bed Stuy Do-or-Die, who lived in Fort Greene, who lived in Crown Heights. They aren’t there anymore. Or growing up, D.C. was chocolate city, now it’s vanilla swirl. I did an interview with somebody on the phone  and he was talking about he connected with the gentrification because gentrification is happening in Paris now. It’s been in London. Brittain used to be where all the black folks lived. Not anymore. So gentrification is a big, big, big, big, big, big issue.

There’s a scene where Mars comes over and visit’s Nola’s brownstone, he has conflict with the new neighbors. And she says,” I’m the new Fort Greene.” And she says “new”? Bitch, we’ve been here. And then we cut to a sign that you go to Fort Greene Park, the children’s playground on the other side, not Washington Park but closer to Willoughby Avenue and LIU, Brooklyn Hospital … There’s a sign that says New Fort Greene. And we cut to that at that point.

What other Spike Lee films would you turn into a TV series and how would it be?

Spike Lee: Well, my next thing. Not going to be no movies, but I have to find time to do School Days on Broadway.

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