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Spike Lee: Selling the Black Aesthetic by Ruth Doughty

by Ethan Tussey

Over the past three decades, Spike Lee has championed the people of Brookyln and romanticized the neighbourhood of Fort Greene in the majority of his films. The Netflix series She’s Gotta Have It (2017) sees a return to the area and a reimagining of the characters made famous in his 1986 debut film of the same title.

In the 2nd episode, #Bootyfull (SELF ACCEPTANCE), Mars Blackmon appears at Nola Darling’s Brownstone and subsequently gets into an altercation with the white neighbour Bianca. As Mars cycles up to the stoop, we not only hear Ahmed Sirour’s ‘We Rep Brooklyn’, but the rap lyrics appear as intertitles on the screen. The roll call lists famous African American musicians, actors, artists, sportsmen, writers and other people of note from Brooklyn, including the director himself.

The quarrel that ensues epitomises a running theme throughout the Netflix series: the gentrification of Fort Greene. It is this ritual of roll call and the promotion of black artistry that has culminated in the neighbourhood becoming a ‘hip’ place for middle-class white homeowners. Lee’s love of the district has significantly led to a change in demographics which has resulted in many African American artists no longer being able to afford rental prices.

In spite of Lee's reproach towards the new white inhabitants, the Netflix series once more foregrounds local cultural producers. In episode 9, #ChangeGonCome (Gentrification), Nola visits local cemeteries and pays homage to 24 great artists and activists. Furthermore, at the conclusion of some scenes, Lee includes still images of album covers; providing viewers with the information required to purchase tracks which accompany the narrative whilst simultaneously promoting local black talent.

Back in 2014, Lee vehemently referred to the process of gentrification as the ‘Christopher Columbus Syndrome’, stating ‘You can’t discover this! We been here. You just can’t come and bogart’. Lee seems to be blissfully unaware of his own culpability. In selling the black aesthetic, he has attracted the white bourgeoisie to inhabit the neighbourhood renowned for its rich creativity. Lee's romanticism is in part to blame. Ironically, although Lee is openly scathing about the changing face of the community, he no longer resides in the area having moved to the Upper East Side in 2010.

"We Rep Brooklyn" scene from Netflix's "She's Gotta Have It" (2017) S1E2

This is the memorable/hilarious scene in Episode 2 (#BootyFull) with an argument between Mars

from She's Gotta Have It (2017)
Creator: Spike Lee
Distributor: YouTube
Posted by Ethan Tussey