Next Monday, August 8, marks the 30th anniversary of one of Spike Lee’s first and greatest works: She’s Gotta Have It. The film, with its look at Black female sexuality in a proud and liberated sense, was groundbreaking. It was groundbreaking not only for its story, written by Lee, but also for the way it was shot, the way it presented Brooklyn, New York, and the way it showcased Black people as a whole. Everything about it was beautiful.
To commemorate the 30th anniversary of the movie, Lee has teamed up with Moleskine for a limited edition notebook. There are only 3,000 copies, each stamped with their own number and including credits for the film inside, as well as She’s Gotta Have It stickers. You can pick up one of the notebooks now, on sale for $24.95.
If you want to take things a step further, Lee can personally sign your notebook — if you live in NYC or LA. He will be at the Barnes & Noble in Union Square (33 E 17th St) on Thursday, August 4 from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. He will also be at Book Soup Los Angeles (8818 Sunset Blvd) on Sunday, August 7 from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.
As a huge fan of this work (I even own it on DVD and wore my hair like Nola Darling before growing locs), I thought another great way to celebrate it would be to give you some details behind the making of the movie. Check out what I found.
It Was a First For Spike Lee
She’s Gotta Have It was Lee’s first feature-length film as a writer and director. Before making it, Lee had created the independent film Joe’s Bed-Stuy Barbershop: We Cut Heads. It was the first film by a student to be presented in the New Directors/New Films Festival at Lincoln Center.
Time Was of the Essence
She’s Gotta Have It was shot in 12 days. Literally just a week and five days.
Money Sho Was Funny
As you likely guessed, the fact that the film was shot in only 12 days had a lot to do with money. With a budget of only $175,000, they could only extend that for so long, and couldn’t even afford retakes. The good news is that the film would go on to gross more than $7 million.
About That Rape Scene…
Lee regrets the rape scene in the movie to this day. Why? “It was just totally … stupid. I was immature,” he said while speaking on the development of a She’s Gotta Have It TV series on Showtime with Deadline. “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.” In that uncomfortable scene, Nola Darling (played by Tracy Camila Johns) invites over one of the men in her life, Jamie (played by Tommy Redmond Hicks) after he rebuffs her because he can’t deal with her multiple suitors. When he comes by and she tries to come onto him, he assaults her after chastising her for only wanting sex from him.
Lee Was Worried About How the Film Would Be Received
According to a New York Times review of the film from 1986, Spike Lee was originally worried about how Black audiences would take to the film. It’s not stated why, though the assumption is because of the sexual nature of the story and possibly the sex scenes. However, the film would go on to influence other Black filmmakers and become a historic piece of work in terms of the ’80s independent film scene.
What Happened to Tracy Camila Johns?
According to that same New York Times article, Lee wrote She’s Gotta Have It with Tracy Camila Johns in mind as Nola Darling. It was Johns’s first and last leading role. Despite doing some great work as Darling, afterward, the actress did very little film work. There was a teeny role in Lee’s Mo’ Better Blues, and then New Jack City, where she played Gee Money’s shady girlfriend Uniqua. Johns would become a born-again Christian and leave acting behind — that is until she appeared briefly in Lee’s Red Hook Summer in 2012 in a very small role as Mother Darling.
It Was S. Epatha Merkerson’s First Film Role
You know her when you see her (or at least you know that name when you see it). In her very first film role (and one of her very first roles in general), the former Law & Order and current Chicago Med star played Doctor Jamison, the professional Darling goes to see about her sexual promiscuity.
Eriq La Salle Was Approached About Playing a Suitor
The former ER star was who Lee wanted to play Greer Childs in the film. However, according to Imdb, La Salle reportedly felt like the role was too shallow for him. Plus, with him joining the Screen Actors Guild, he was ineligible to take the part in the independent film anyway.
The Sex Scenes Were Originally More Graphic
If tonguing ni–les, a rape scene and a completely n-de roll in the hay weren’t enough, Lee originally shot some even more graphic sex scenes. Those scenes were initially going to garner She’s Gotta Have It an “X” rating, but Lee went back and edited them so he could obtain an “R.”
Did I Mention the Money Was Funny?
To collect all the coins he could while shooting the film, Lee reportedly encouraged cast members to recycle. No, really. They were told not to throw away their soda cans after lunch breaks so he could take them to be recycled and get money for his stockpile.
The Story Behind Mars
The name Mars, which was Lee’s very memorable character in the film, came from the director’s great great grandfather. When searching for a name for the character while writing the movie, Lee reportedly asked his grandmother for help. She gave him the name of her own grandfather. Lee probably didn’t foresee Mars Blackmon becoming such a big figure in pop culture, appearing in popular Air Jordan commercials and more.