The most important thing that viewers learn about Olumide Owoye (played by Michael Luwoye), Nola’s Nigerian beau, is that Nola believes he sculpts with “cow dung to reflect the prickly relationship between the black male visage and the white gaze’s distrust and enticement of it.” In one scene, she watches him construct one of his ostensibly African-inspired works in the nude; the visual cliche is never explained. Later, Nola tells him, “I’m not mad at Chewy-toy Ijeda-tofu. I’m not mad at John Puerto Rican Bodega,” hideous butcherings of “Chiwetel Ejiofor” and “John Boyega,” the names of two prominent British Nigerian actors (the latter has pithily weighed in on the line via Twitter). Olu, whom the series depicts clad in Ghanaian kente cloth despite his being from Nigeria, laughs as he tells her to stop messing up their names. Nola’s response, like much of her dialogue, sounds painfully like Spike Lee:
You know I’m just being slightly shady. Point is, I agree with my brother, Samuel L. You London blokes need to fall back and fall away from taking all of our roles. Like we have dope, talented, trained, qualified black actors right here in the States. And at the end of the day, black Brits just come cheaper.
Rather than explore any of the complex reasons black British actors aspire to American entertainment gigs—or question the larger gatekeeping apparatus that keeps all black people fighting for a handful of opportunities—the show’s writing doubles down on ahistorical condescension. Nola tells Olu, a black man raised in a country where most black people are the descendants of West Indian enslaved people, that Britain also participated in the slave trade. “You and your manz and your fellow black British blokes didn’t come out of the shit unscathed,” she retorts (the Netflix captions spell manz with a z and fufu, a common Nigerian culinary staple, as “foofoo”). “You just have Stockholm syndrome and fell in love with your captors.”
Olu, instead of rebutting her statements, tells Nola he loves her “fearlessness.” The two proceed to have sex. She’s Gotta Have It allows Nola’s insular worldview, which sounds suspiciously more like that of a middle-aged man anxious about his place in the entertainment world than that of a young Brooklyn woman, to go unchallenged. (Nola’s derivative art, with its many references to only the most overt forms of American racial violence, is regularly framed as inventive work; here, too, the show feels outdated at best.) The show’s treatment of Olu, who has a Yoruba name despite being written as the descendant of Fulani nomads, remains hackneyed throughout the season. In a particularly fetishistic scene, as Olu gives a speech at Brooklyn’s Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts, he’s heckled by a woman who calls him “Mr. Coming to America.”
She’s Gotta Have It also has yet to shake its strangely regressive view of women. The series presents mawkish lines of dialogue that seem more like placeholder text than words people might actually say to each other. (In one scene, Nola is in bed with a woman named Opal Gilstrap; the latter punctuates their post-coital bliss with the painful sentence, “Nola Darling, you’ve been Opal Gilstrapped.”) The show is also palpably judgmental of women whose decisions fall outside the Instagram-ready shenanigans Nola gets herself into. Shemekka, a friend of Nola’s whose butt implants literally exploded in Season 1, once again serves as little more than a sentient warning: All viewers see her do is either liaise with a curiously accented character from Brownsville (played by Fat Joe), wistfully pine after a new job at a hair salon, or lament her botched surgery. Shemekka never gets justice.
Frustratingly—and unsurprisingly—She’s Gotta Have It’s most amusing character remains Mars Blackmon. Played by Anthony Ramos in the series, the character was embodied by Lee himself in the original film. In Season 2, Mars gets precious little screen time—despite a promising gentrification plotline—and when he does appear, his fizzy energy is too often lost amid buzzy repartee that mimics Twitter threads (indeed, all the episode titles are hashtagged). The resulting mess feels like a chore to watch, with chants like “Reclaiming our time!” meant to appeal to the same kinds of viewers who are most likely to reject aesthetic allusions as signifiers of principle.