Thursday, 14 December 2006

Revisiting my submitted dissertation: 'Who's Gotta Have It?'

I was just looking over my dissertation and I was like, dang girl! You did the dang thang!Although I haven't completely graduated (long story), this is my dissertation that I still need to submit.

Anyway, it was, from my point of view, a womanist deconstruction of 'She's Gotta Have It'.
I really enjoyed writing and researching for it.
Not bad for somebody who was told at an earlier age by racist schoolteachers that I wouldn't amount to anything. Oh, the power of books and reading for self, huh? lol

I've posted 4 pages of it. Let me know what y'all think! Post your thoughts... look forward to reading them *big smile*

Who’s Gotta Have It?

A Womanist deconstruction of sexual and transgressive narrative themes in Spike Lee’s She’s Gotta Have It.

Christine Gledhill opens her essay, CriticisRecent Developments in Feminist by stating that a crucial aspect for examination is the fact that ‘women as women’ are not only misrepresented and vocally ignored on screen, but that the female point of view is not heard. (In Braudy and Cohen, 1999:251) In regard to feminist film theory in general, bell hooks observes that mainstream cinema fails to acknowledge black female spectator ship, adding that

‘Many feminist film critics continue to structure their discourse as though it speaks about ‘women’ when in actuality it speaks only about white women.’
(hooks, 1992:123)

This exclusionary practice details the idea that feminist theorists when writing about white women under the overall banner of ‘women’ do not actually see the whiteness of the image, a practice which calls for further scrutiny. Hooks goes on to suggest that this process negates the necessity of revising ‘conventional ways of thinking about psychoanalysis as a paradigm of analysis’ (hooks, 1992:124) and it denies the fact that gender/sexuality may not be the primary or sole signifier of difference. In addition to Gledhill’s statement one could then observe that a crucial issue in womanist[1] film theory is the examination of the fact that ‘black women as black women’ are not represented on film, that their voice is invisible and their point of view is not heard. (I state this in a pluralist sense,
[1] A term coined by Alice Walker from the book, 'InSearch of our Mother’s Gardens’, which describes a distinct and separate form of black feminism. For further reference see

invisible and their point of view is not heard. (I state this in a pluralist sense, taking into consideration that not all black women think the same or are the same, but speak of ‘black women’ under the collective banner of gender.)

In a world that is now considered to be postmodern, fast moving and progressive, and where women’s transitional identities could be described by the same measure[1], women continue to be portrayed on film from a male point of view and within a patriarchal framework underscored by set codes and narratives. This practice has caused unrest from feminist film theorists and critics, and has spawned many theories and unresolved questions in an effort to challenge, change or create new ways of looking. How then can women, with all of their complex strengths, emotions and foibles be accurately portrayed from a phallocentric point of view within a male dominated industry?
This essay speaks from a womanist standpoint, attempting to deconstruct the narrative within Spike Lee’s She’s Gotta Have It with the aim of confronting a few of those unanswered questions. Not to miraculously solve the apparently unsolvable, but perhaps once again to raise issues to the forefront. In bell hooks deconstructive essay of the same movie, entitled Whose Pussy Is This? she surmises that ‘(it) can take its place alongside a growing body of contemporary films that claim to tell women’s stories while privileging male narratives’. (hooks, 1996:231) The film will be critiqued in response to Spike’s claim that he merely intended to ‘Make an intelligent film that showed black people loving each other and black people falling out of love’ (Lee, 1987:57), but in fact he systematically replicates ‘mainstream patriarchal cinematic practices which represents woman (in this case a black woman) as the object of a phallocentric gaze.’ (hooks, 1992:126) Some of the questions raised are; does the narrative represent the female lead character to her fullest extent? Whose voice is dominant within the narrative? Is the central female character liberated, independent and in control as Spike had intended her to be? From whose point of view does the narrative

[1] Here I speak of all women.

truly run? Does the movie successfully portray black female sexual agency, even though a male directed it?
And finally, did she get the ‘it’ that she was supposed to have?

When the multi-award winning[1] She’s Gotta Have It was released in 1986, audiences attended with preconceived notions of what they were about to see. This was partly due the hype surrounding the director, the young, black maverick Spike Lee; whose fresh, innovative and revolutionary approach it was hoped would single-handedly be the saviour of black American independent film, and partly because of the way in which it was tagged, as ‘A Seriously Sexy Comedy’. The tag line proved to be misleading (though none the less successful), as although on the surface the film is controversially about sexual politics between a black woman and her three black lovers,[2] and there are certainly some fine comedic moments in the film; within the narrative lie serious, sexual taboo subjects such as punishment, violence against black women, masturbation, sexual agency and promiscuity (in a newly aids-aware culture). In fact it was the descriptions of the sex scenes, (the fact that there actually were sex scenes), that had to a large extent set the precedent for the audience’s anticipation. Black audiences patronised the film in significant numbers in the hope that their hunger for positive and accurate representations of their culture would be sated and that finally there was a movie in existence, which would sensitively depict love and sexual issues that were real and even essential to them. The large audience figures also gave it crossover appeal, making his directorial debut (made in just twelve days on a paltry budget of $178,000) the success story of 1986 that would go on to gross over $7,137,502 in the United States.[3] (

[1] It was awarded the Prix de la Jeunesse award at Cannes in 1987, and the Clarence Muse Youth Award from the Black Filmmakers Hall Of Fame. It went on to accrue accolades from film festivals around the world such as Montreal, Amsterdam, Switzerland and Paris. (Lee, 1987: Postscript)

[2] Controversial, because it is the female character who is sexually liberated, not the other way around, thus breaking with convention, so to speak.

[3] A feat Nelson George described as, ‘A miracle of faith and capitalism.’ (Lee, 1987:15) Also groundbreaking in a similar way to Van Peebles’ Sweet Sweetback’s Baadaaass Song (1971) in that his movie saved Island Pictures just as the Blaxploitation genre had reputedly saved Hollywood from financial ruin.

Spike Lee was born in 1957 in Atlanta and as a young boy moved with his middle class family to the Bed-Stuyvesant area of Brooklyn, New York. A third generation Moorehouse graduate, he attended New York University’s film school where he was awarded a Student Academy Award for his thesis, Joe’s Bed-Stuy Barbershop: We Cut Heads (1983). She’s Gotta Have It came as a refreshing change for the black community who were still suffering the effects of the post-Blaxploitation fallout in terms of the lack of positive representation. Its fresh approach depicted a humorous, middle class slice of black urban life without reference to drugs, guns, ghettos or the negative aspects of hip-hop. In effect it was almost an antidote to other films of its era such as Wild style (1982) and Krush Groove (1985).

Breaking with traditional narrative codes Spike chose a black female as the protagonist, his decision for which is outlined in the first page of the journal he kept which logged the trials and tribulations he faced whilst making of the movie,

‘It's always amazed me how men can go out and bone any and everything between fifteen and eighty and it’s OK. They are encouraged to have and enjoy sex, while it’s not so for women. If they do what men do they are labelled whore, prostitute, nympho, etc. Why this double standard? Why not explore this? Have a character, a beautiful young black woman who loves sex, and can love more than one man at a time also… The men label the main character a freak, but she’s not. SHE’S GOTTA HAVE IT – that’s all.’
(Lee, 1987:66)

1 comment:

  1. I didn't even get any of the deconstruction part. You cut it off too early. Now you gotta post the next 4 pages.