Jimi Izrael is the author of The Denzel Principle: Why Black Women Can't Find Good Black Men and a regular contributor to Tell Me More.
This week marks the 25th anniversary of Spike Lee's "She's Gotta Have It," a masterful film about walking in the shoes of a liberated black woman in the 80s. She's Gotta Have It was director Spike Lee's first feature film and stars Tracy Camilla Johns as Nola Darling, a layout artist living in Brooklyn, New York who has surrounded herself with an army of lovers – not really for any reason beyond the fact that she can. The story of Nola's travails navigating the dating pool remains as relevant now as it was then: professional black women still can't seem to find a man on their level. Like Nola, they've "gotta have it." But what is "IT," exactly? Sex? Money? Power?
All of the above.
In the 80's the new professional black woman seemed to be grappling with traditional mores and questions about whether locking herself down to one suitable male counterpart was practical or even desirable. Lee's film captures all the angst of that quandary. I enjoy this film because it gave its characters agency and choices. From The Dogs to Nola to Mars Blackmon and all the other players, they players lived in a world of their own making – especially Nola.
People always see this film and its title, and assume the "IT" Nola has to have is sex. I think that oversimplifies the narrative. This movie endures because the audience struggles with the notion of what Nola has to have while the question still goes unanswered. The empathetic sisters and daughters of Nola remain confused about how to fold career aspirations and a sense of independence into the conventional template of Western Wifery, that includes finding and marrying a "good man" and having children.
After a life of happy hours and guilt-free sex, Nola plans to settle down and become the Good Wife – have two "rusty-butt" boys. This was Nola's American Dream. Sex was not the "IT" in "She's Gotta Have It." The "IT" was the pervasive idea that many women feel as if they can have—and richly deserve – everything. Nola had to have it all. She's probably still in that loft in Brooklyn with her 16 cats, waiting for "IT."