In the fifth episode of She’s Gotta Have It’s second season, titled, “SuperCaliFragiSexy,” Nola Darling (DeWanda Wise) and her new lust interest Olumide “Olu” Owoye (Michael Luwoye) are chillin’ on the couch discussing Black British actors’ impact on Hollywood.
“Black British actors are better suited than black American actors because they don’t carry the burden of … fucked up black American history. Lynching, slavery, Jim Crow, all of that,” Olu remarked in the scene.
“You’re not unburdened, Olu!” Nola pushed back. “British ships were the dominant force in the Atlantic Slave Trade. Almost two million kidnapped Africans died in the Middle Passage. You and your Black British blokes didn’t come out unscathed. You just developed Stockholm syndrome, and fell in love with your captors.”
In the scene, Nola also threw out a hackneyed joke, referring to John Boyega’s surname as “bodega.” I guess, to throw an extra provocative cherry on an exploitative pie.
Beyond that quip, Boyega had something to say about the scene’s overall existence. “Trash,” the Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker actor tweeted.
Boyega’s comment was indicative of a lot of viewers’ opinions about the scene, in fact.
Amid the “wtf, y’all?!” storm, show creator Spike Lee chimed in on his Instagram page under his routine post about the episode’s soundtrack listing.
“Truth Hurts?” Lee simply responded to the Instagram commenter who expressed concerns about the scene. Question is, what “truth” is that? Was he agreeing with Nola’s offensive and inaccurate comments? Did he sense a “truth” in how the entire conversation went down?
In a response letter obtained by IndieWire, She’s Gotta Have It writer and supervising producer Barry Michael Cooper decided to directly address Boyega’s comments as well as the larger diaspora’s concerns with the episode’s scene.
Firstly, he addressed the one major “misconception” that Lee had written the episode. Lee is the show’s creator and essentially the face of the franchise’s creative team, but this particular writing credit was solely Cooper’s, as he explained at length:
In all fairness, Mr. Boyega, you have every right to be incensed by the intentional mispronunciation of you and Mr. [Chiwetel] Ejiofor’s names. 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 I wrote Nola’s politicized screed not only to be provocative, but to also bracket her riposte with a historical reference.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.
Cooper, who assures us the scene “was borne of a series of actual events,” cited Samuel L. Jackson’s infamous 2017 interview with Hot 97 regarding his issue with black British actors being cast in black American character roles, which I admittedly immediately thought of when I watched the scene in She’s Gotta Have It. Cooper also cited one particular retort to Jackson’s position, in an effort to support his own:
Jackson’s sentiment didn’t sit well with storied Afro-Brit actor David Harewood. His portrayal of the sophisticated and invidious CIA Deputy Director ‘David Estes’ in Showtime’s Homeland was a powerful character study of subdued menace. His essay in The Guardian repudiated Jackson’s assessment of black actors from the UK. ‘Perhaps it’s precisely because we are not real American brothers,’ 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.’
Cooper says he wanted to “get folks talking” with this scene, but the thing is, people were already talking when Jackson made his comments. That shit was everywhere, with very famous Black British actors chiming in, including one of the most famous—Idris Elba.
Revisiting the convo in a dramatized episode would’ve been a great way to unpack the conversation in a fresh way, but instead, it came off as regurgitating trite concepts. Nola’s comments were never really challenged in any way and the whole thing wasn’t so much a vehicle for deeper discussion as it was foreplay to a sexual encounter between the two obviously hot-and-bothered characters.
“Olu, instead of rebutting her statements, tells Nola he loves her ‘fearlessness,’” wrote the Atlantic’s staff culture writer, Hannah Giorgis. “The two proceed to have sex. She’s Gotta Have It allows Nola’s insular worldview, which sounds suspiciously more like that of a middle-aged man anxious about his place in the entertainment world than that of a young Brooklyn woman, to go unchallenged.”
Giorgis’ above point, did, in fact, echo earlier criticisms of the show, specifically its outdated sense of a woman’s sexuality and the aspect of polyamory.
Cooper ended the letter with a sort of olive branch to Boyega.
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. To paraphrase Mos Def/Yasiin Bey’s line from Black Star’s “Thieves in the Night”: The length of black life continues to be treated with short worth. I want to lift you up, my brother. Not tear you—or any of us —down.
The Root has reached out to John Boyega for comment regarding Cooper’s letter.