Last week, actor John Boyega called Spike Lee to the carpet over a scene from season two of “She’s Gotta Have It,” which was apparently so troubling, it led the Star Wars Forces of Destiny actor to refer to it as “trash” in a tweet. As you may recall, in the scene in question, Nola and her British suitor, Olu, find themselves in the midst of a debate that begins with Nola accusing British Black actors of stealing jobs from American Black actors. Things quickly unravel and the conversation evolves into a polarizing debate in which Olu states that British actors are more suitable for roles “because they don’t carry the burden of…f-cked up Black American history. Lynching, slavery, Jim Crow, all of that.” To this, Nola responds: “You and your Black British blokes didn’t come out unscathed. You just developed Stockholm syndrome, and fell in love with your captors.”
In actuality, Spike Lee didn’t write the episode — producer Barry Michael Cooper did. And in an open letter published to Indie Wire, Cooper responded to the 27-year-old’s harsh criticism. According to Cooper, the episode did exactly what it was intended to do — provoke.
“I wrote Nola’s politicized screed not only to be provocative, but to also bracket her riposte with a historical reference. Nola’s measured diatribe was a means of informing Olu (which also literally aroused him, based on the ferocity of their sex in the following scene), and to stir the viewers, too. I wanted to write a scene that would inspire a Transatlantic and intra-racial discussion about slavery and the emotional keloids that continue to scar the African diaspora to this very day,” the Harlem native explained.
According to Cooper, the episode was inspired by Samuel L. Jackson’s 2017 interview with Hot 97, in which he made a comment about Black American actor losing roles to Black British actors, and the retort from British actor David Harewood that followed. As you may recall, Harewood reasoned that British actors and their success could be attributed to their ability to “unshackle ourselves from the burden of racial realities — and simply play what’s on the page, not what’s in the history books” due to the fact that they’re not “real American brothers.”
“Unshackle. That word has brutal connotations: Whips, blood, wounds, beatings, bondage, chains, water hoses, dogs, police batons, submission. Beautiful black baby girls bombed and blown to bits in church basements by Jim Crow cowards. Descendants of African kings swinging like mutilated fruit from the branches of shadow-stained Georgia Sycamore trees,” Cooper went on. “Nola’s quip that Olu was a victim of ‘Stockholm syndrome,’ was a direct hit on Harewood’s apparent obliviousness to the actual history of the enslavement of Africans in the UK. Conversely, Jackson’s initial statement about black actors in the UK may have sounded unnecessarily harsh to my brothers and sisters across the pond. My point is, the remarks of both Jackson and Harewood became the wellspring for the fiery exchange between Nola Darling and Olu Owoye. It’s not something I made up. The scene I wrote in this episode of ‘She’s Gotta Have It’ was meant to be combustible.”
In closing, Cooper reiterated that his intentions were to spark conversations across the diaspora — not to divide.
“Mr. Boyega, I appreciate your response—and the response of your fellow UK black brothers and sisters—to my ‘trashy’ episode. I hope that response will get our family in the diaspora to talk to each other, and more importantly, to listen to each other.”
You can read his full letter here.