She's Gotta Have It

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She's Gotta Have It
She's Gotta Have It film poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Spike Lee
Produced by Spike Lee
(credited as Shelton J. Lee)
Written by Spike Lee
Music by Bill Lee
Cinematography Ernest Dickerson
Edited by Spike Lee
Distributed by Island Pictures
Release dates
  • August 8, 1986 (1986-08-08)
Running time
84 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $185,000
Box office $7,137,502 (USA)[1]

She's Gotta Have It is a 1986 American comedy-drama film written and directed by Spike Lee.[2] It is Lee's first feature-length film.

The film stars Tracy Camilla Johns, Tommy Redmond Hicks and John Canada Terrell. Also appearing are cinematographer Ernest Dickerson as a Queens resident and, in an early appearance, S. Epatha Merkerson as a doctor.


Nola Darling (Tracy Camilla Johns) is a young, attractive, sexually independent Brooklynite who juggles three suitors: the polite and well-meaning Jamie Overstreet (Tommy Redmond Hicks); the self-obsessed model Greer Childs (John Canada Terrell); and the immature, motor-mouthed Mars Blackmon (Spike Lee). Nola is attracted to the best in each of them, but refuses to commit to any of them, cherishing her personal freedom instead, while each man wants her for himself.

Her carefree sexually liberated lifestyle ultimately comes to an end when her three male suitors meet and compare notes on Nola. While Greer justifies Nola's callous behavior by claiming that she sees the three not as individuals but as a collective, Jamie and Mars become bitter over how little Nola cares for all three men.

Realizing that Mars and Greer are too scared of losing Nola to force her to choose one of the three men, Jamie lays down an ultimatum to her that she must choose a single lover. Nola scoffs at this decision, and visits him several days later at his apartment for casual sex. Jamie rapes Nola, while mockingly asking her if he's as good sexually, as Greer or Mars. Being raped causes Nola to have an epiphany: realizing that promiscuity has turned Jamie against her, she decides to call Jamie's bluff. Nola dumps Greer and Mars and then tells Jamie that she's is ready for a monogamous relationship. However, there is a catch: Nola, believing that her promiscuity is the source of her inability to commit to a single guy, wants the relationship to be celibate for the time being. Though he at first rejects Nola's "no sex" decree, Jamie agrees to it after initially saying no.

Nola and Jamie's reunion however, is followed by a coda which dismantles the "happy ending" of the couple coming together. In a monologue delivered to the camera Nola reveals that her vow of celibacy and her decision to be with Jamie exclusively was "a moment of weakness". Nola explains that she soon began to cheat on Jamie and ultimately the relationship collapsed, though she is vague on specifics or whether or not she resumed her casual affairs with Mars or Greer (the latter of which vowed never to have anything else to do with Nola after being dumped). Nola proudly proclaims that monogamy was a form of slavery and that her promiscuous lifestyle is freedom in its purest form. However, the film implies that Nola is still terminally unhappy with her decision to leave Jamie as the film closes with Nola going to bed all alone.


Nola idealizes having what men in society have—multiple sex partners—which symbolizes her as an individual struggling against the group. “A woman (or, at least Nola) can be a sexual being, doesn’t have to belong to a man, and perhaps shouldn’t even wish for such a thing.”[3] Above all, Nola’s voice is the most revolutionary element in the film, a representation of the struggle American women of color faced in society at the time.[4]


She's Gotta Have It was Lee's first feature-length motion picture as a writer/director and a landmark independent film of American cinema.

The New York Times wrote that the film "ushered in (along with Jim Jarmusch's Stranger Than Paradise) the American independent film movement of the 1980s. It was also a groundbreaking film for African-American filmmakers and a welcome change in the representation of blacks in American cinema, depicting men and women of color not as pimps and whores, but as intelligent, upscale urbanites."[5]

The film was shot in twelve days during the summer of 1985 on a budget of $175,000 and grossed $7,137,502 at the U.S. box office.[1]

The film served as a turning point for the Fort Greene, Brooklyn neighborhood where it was filmed. Lee portrayed the neighborhood as a vibrant cosmopolitan community where successful African Americans thrived, focusing not only on Nola and her struggles, but also on local children, residents, and graffiti, revealing the struggles of the neighborhood and the people in it to the world. Fort Greene Park was used for the setting of much of the movie. This public space is made to feel like a comfortable place for the characters, serving to encourage others to investigate public spaces in the area and creating a link with viewers in other places who had similar thriving public spaces of community importance.[6] After the movie was released, media attention was drawn to Brooklyn, from which a flood of artists and musicians began emerging.[7]



Awards and nominations[edit]

1986 Cannes Film Festival

  • "Award of the Youth" Foreign Film — Spike Lee (won)

1986 Los Angeles Film Critics Awards

  • "New Generation Award" — Spike Lee (won)

1987 Independent Spirit Awards

  • Best First Feature — Spike Lee (won)
  • Best Female Lead — Tracy Camilla Johns (nominated)

In 2014, Lee said that his one regret as a filmmaker was the rape scene in She's Gotta Have It: "If I was able to have any do-overs, that would be it. It was just totally ... stupid. I was immature. It made light of rape, and that’s the one thing I would take back. I was immature and I hate that I did not view rape as the vile act that it is. I can promise you, there will be nothing like that in 'She's Gotta Have It,' the TV show [that will air on Showtime], that's for sure."[8]

Home media[edit]

She's Gotta Have It was released on VHS tape. It was later released for DVD in North America on January 15, 2008, by 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment through United Artists and MGM. Despite the film's availability on DVD in the United Kingdom, the DVD release for Region 1 took longer than expected.[citation needed]

In the mid-1990s, The Criterion Collection released the film on laserdisc. According to Lee's agent, the film was to be eventually released on DVD. Jonathan Turell of The Criterion Collection ended that rumor, saying "No for She's Gotta Have It. We don't have DVD rights."[9] This laserdisc is the only release of the film that has the NC-17-rated director's cut, including sexual content that was cut to obtain an R rating. This release also contains an exclusive commentary by Spike Lee.

It was the first movie to air on This TV when it launched on November 1, 2008, excluding some stations that started offering the network on the day before it aired.[citation needed]

In 2010 the film was digitized in High Definition (1080i) and broadcast on MGM HD.

TV series[edit]

On September 15, 2016, Netflix announced a deal to produce a series based on the film, with Spike Lee returning to direct and executive produce the series.[10]


  1. ^ She's Gotta Have It". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved January 30, 2006.
  2. ^ Lee, Spike (1987). Spike Lee's Gotta Have It: Inside Guerrilla Filmmaking. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-671-64417-3. 
  3. ^ “She’s Gotta Have It” PopMatters
  4. ^ Diawara, Manthia. “Homeboy Cosmopolitan.” In Search of Africa, 237-76. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998.
  5. ^ Scott, A. O. (February 7, 2005). "We're Sorry". The New York Times. Retrieved May 23, 2010. 
  6. ^ Diawara, Manthia: Homeboy Cosmopolitan. in Search of Africa.Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press 1998.
  7. ^ E.R. Shipp (December 4, 1988). "Their Muse was Malcolm X". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-04-30. 
  8. ^ The Huffington Post
  9. ^ "• View topic - Criterion Random Speculation Vol.3". Retrieved 2013-03-27. 
  10. ^ Andreeva, Nellie (15 September 2016). "Netflix Orders 'She's Gotta Have It' Spike Lee Series Based On His Landmark Movie". Deadline. 

External links[edit]