With She’s Gotta Have It continuing to take backlash for a scene that talked about Black Brits in Hollywood, one of the episode’s writers is speaking out on the matter.
The scene in question depicts Nola Darling (DeWanda Wise) talking about how Black British actors take roles from Black American actors. Darling went on to have a dialogue with Black British man, Olu (Michael Luwoye), in which Olu says that British actors are more equipped for certain roles because they don’t carry the burden of Black American history. Darling then attempts to explain to Olu how Black Brits aren’t “unburdened.” In the scene, Nola Darling also mispronounced the names of John Boyega and Chiwetel Ejiofor. Boyega openly criticized the scene, calling it “trash.”
In an open letter he published on IndieWire, Barry Michael Cooper explained his position, clarifying that he wrote the episode, not Spike Lee. “In all fairness, Mr. Boyega, you have every right to be incensed by the intentional mispronunciation of you and Mr. Ejiofor’s names,” he wrote. “My apologies to you both. I wrote Nola’s politicized screed not only to be provocative, but to also bracket her riposte with a historical reference.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. This scene was borne of a series of actual events. The talented ladies in the SGHI Writer’s Room—Radha Blank, Eisa Davis, Joie Lee (Spike’s sister), Jocelyn Bioh, Antoinette Nwandu, Tonya Lewis Lee (Spike’s wife and co-executive producer of the show), and the actual artist behind Nola’s spellbinding artwork, Tatyana Fazlalizadeh—felt that Nola’s male lover for Season 2 should be a sculptor of renown in the art world (Olu uses cow dung as his work source), and he should be a Black Brit. Spike agreed that it was a hot idea, as did the male writers in the room, Andrew Lemon Andersen, Cinque Lee (Spike’s brother), and me.”
He explained that the episode’s dialogue was in response to comments by Samuel L. Jackson and resulting comments from David Harewood. “Harewood wrote, ‘that we black British performers have the 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.’ 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. The word unshackled is arid with the lugubrious, putrid and ancient stank of dismembered ghosts plumbing the depths of watery graves…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. Mr. Boyega, a ‘Spike Lee Joint’ is meant to get folks talking. Even if we agree to disagree.”
Cooper also spoke about other characters, saying Shemekka Epps was “sprang to life from stories I read about women across the country who were dying from D.I.Y. butt injections. Women who reminded me of Sarah Baartman.” He ended the note by saying, “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. Instead of us fomenting Transatlantic factionalism, let us catalyze a conversation that would make our ancestors proud. We children of the diaspora need that conversation of the kidnapped to take place.”
You can read the letter in full over at IndieWire.
Photo: She’s Gotta Have It