The Spike Lee multiverse grows, a Black arts syllabus expands, DeWanda Wise as Nola Darling returns and along with her, beauty, art, and hijinks in the second season of “She’s Gotta Have It.”
At a preview of season two’s first episode at the Parkway Theater last month, the line to get inside formed early and among the many people attending were plenty of Wise and writer/producer Radha Blank’s family and friends— Wise is a Baltimorean and Blank splits her time between here and Brooklyn. Their families would unwittingly have the honor of watching a two-minute long nude lesbian sex scene all together. The Parkway’s massive Theatre 1 felt more intimate as Wise and Blank got honest about their careers and artistic journeys during the post-screening talk. Listening to the women speak of their personal lives and approaches to art helps put the energy of the second season into perspective.
Mostly, season two is more independent and original—now separate from the seminal 1986 film it was based on. This season, we get to see these characters live in today’s world, facing more in tune with what’s happening in 2019: Gentrification, climate change disasters in Puerto Rico, the ins and outs of a same gender romantic relationship, and the black arts scene are just a few of the topics touched on this season. And as much as I loved to see Nola adored by three different lovers in the first season, I’m relieved to see her exist outside of romance. Nola is growing as an artist and we are inspired by what that looks like along with her. In the first season it was about her making that groundbreaking work, this year we get to see what letting your work pay your bills actually looks like.
This season is even more of a Black Arts 101 course then the first. Spike Lee and a crew of women writers, including Blank and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Lynn Nottage (“Ruined” and “Sweat”), reference black artists of varying disciplines throughout this season. The #NationTime episode follows Nola’s first Black Artist retreat experience and is worth more than a year at any art school. The legendary Carrie Mae Weems lets Nola know that she personally chose her to attend the retreat and gives her some sound advice on what it means to be a working artist. Amy Sherald casually talks about her groundbreaking portrait of Michelle Obama over dinner. Woven into the contemporary Black Arts syllabus qualities of the show are elements of the Spike Lee canon: Nola and Skylar, the daughter of Opal’s ex sing the same song that Troy and her siblings sang in “Crooklyn”; Coney Island ferris wheels are a backdrop for a romantic climaxes a la “He Got Game.”
The conversation around Black art and African diaspora expands when we encounter Olu, a Black british sculptor and Nola’s love interest. The chemistry between Nola and Olu is palpable, in spite of a particularly grating conversation about Black british actors stealing jobs that spirals into a misinformed, mini, diaspora war. It’s here where the show reverts to previous missteps and we see the worst of how age and insecurity dampens the writing of the show. The controversial conversation between Nola and Olu is a missed opportunity to talk about the ways the transatlantic slave trade affected Africans on the continent and in Europe as well. Luckily, the ball is picked back up in the episode that finds Nola and the crew in Puerto Rico to support the people devastated by Hurricane Maria. We get to see how the island is finding strength in its African Traditional Religions as Nola gets incorporated by the spirit of Oshun as she dances to drums on the river bed. Rosie Perez, as Mars’ mom steals the episode with a shocking revelation that (surprise, surprise) the show’s Mars character is actually the son of Mookie from “Do the Right Thing.” It’s actually not as corny as you would imagine it to be.
Season Two stayed true to Spike’s obsession with place while delving deeper into how cities, and countries inform the decisions his characters are sometimes forced to make. At the Parkway sneak peek I got to ask Wise and Blank how they have been personally impacted by this place called Baltimore.
BB: Can you talk about how your relationship with Baltimore informs your artmaking?
Dewanda Wise: You know, Maryland is a tiny state, there’s so much packed in. Growing up we would spend summers in the Eastern Shore so there’s this beach element. My grandfather owned a junkyard, it was the largest on the east coast in the ‘50s and ‘60s, and obviously I lived in Baltimore. So I had this vast experience growing up. This understanding of multiple worlds and how those worlds in every way impacted the woman that I am. So I bring this almost anthropological approach to every character I play. And because I was an American Studies major…playing a Brooklyn girl…I know to the extent that I can. I know what it means. I grew up in my 20s there. So I take the care, the love, the understanding that I have about what shaped me and how [Baltimore] made me, how Brooklyn has shaped me, and made Nola.
Radha Blank: I live in New York and Baltimore. New York still informs my storytelling. But there’s a big part of my life that informed my storytelling that’s not there anymore. I was raised in an artist community in Williamsburg Brooklyn. And if you’ve been to Williamsburg lately, it is an episode of “Girls.” In the episode of “Girls” I am a fucking barista. And I barely have any lines outside of “You wan’ a latte?” And I gotta say it like that, “You wan’ a latte?!” So with that intentional artist community that I was a part of, in the late ‘70s and ‘80s not being there anymore, Baltimore has helped to fill that void. I think there’s just a passion here. And the people here are so black—damn, I just love that shit! That unapologetic black spirit, you know? Baltimore has its share of despair, but there’s still a lot of love, and light and energy and passion here and it’s what I was missing from New York.
“She’s Gotta Have It” Season 2 is currently streaming on Netflix.