In season two of Spike Lee's She's Gotta Have It, the protagonist Nola Darling (DeWanda Wise) and her love interest Olumide "Olu" Owoye (Michael Luwoye) meet on a prestigious residency for black artists in Martha’s Vineyard. Nola is an up-and-coming artist from Brooklyn with a taste for social activism, Olu is an established British sculptor who makes enormous structures out of cow dung.
One evening, after Olu (wearing Ghanaian Kente clothing even though he's supposed to be of Nigerian heritage, but anyhow) makes her dinner, Nola voices her distaste for black British actors "taking" African American roles, and thus begins a conversation rife with ignorance.
Here's how it goes: The scene begins with Nola sitting on a long black leather sofa, sipping a large glass of white wine and purposely mispronouncing the names of British Nigerian actors Chiwetel Ejiofor and John Boyega. "I’m not mad at Chewy-to Ijeda-tofu. I’m not mad at John PuertoRico Bodega," she says. The mispronunciation of the names of people of colour by white people (a form of microaggression) has been an ongoing worldwide debate for years now. "Names have incredible significance to families, with so much thought, meaning and culture woven into them," Rita Kohli, assistant professor of education at the University of California at Riverside, told Quartz about the names of foreign students in schools. "[When teachers] mispronounce, disregard or change [a student’s] name, they are in a sense disregarding the family and culture of the students as well." This translates to all aspects of life for people with 'exotic' names and even though throughout the show Nola’s character is depicted as well-informed on racial politics and social injustice, she seems to miss the outrageousness (and outright offensiveness) of her intentional blunder.
Nola also goes on to agree with Samuel L Jackson's controversial comment from 2017 that the main character of Get Out should never have been played by the British Daniel Kaluuya because black Brits do not experience the same racial prejudice as African Americans. "You London blokes need to fall back and fall away from taking all of our roles. We have dope, talented, trained qualified black actors right here in the States. And at the end of the day black Brits just come cheaper," she explains. Kaluuya rebutted Samuel L Jackson's claim in a QZ interview saying, "I resent that I have to prove that I’m black" and going on to talk about his own personal race-related traumas.
John Boyega, who has starred in Star Wars: The Last Jedi and Attack The Block simply called Nola's comments "trash" on Twitter. Others have argued that the idea that British actors come cheap is nonsense.
As the scene continues, Olu says that "black British actors are better suited than black American actors for Stateside roles because they don’t carry the burden of fucked up black American history." Nola then calls him out for being "ignorant", explaining black British history and its relationship to slavery and concluding that "you [black Britons] just have Stockholm syndrome and fell in love with your captors."
Olu is a black man from Britain, where a vast proportion of the black population are descendants of Caribbean slaves – something he would have known, surely? The scene ends with Olu praising Nola for her brash statements, and then the two have sex.
Fuck #ShesGottaHaveIt2 for reinforcing the ignorance that already pertains around Black British folks from African Americans. They have so many misconceptions of us and this disgustingly pushes that narrative further out to a huge ass platform. https://t.co/Roc0cgSUQo— 🄽🅄🄱🄸🄰🄽 🅃🄰🅁🄾🅃 (@nubiantarot) May 26, 2019
The scene has been met with backlash on social media, with many expressing disappointment with Spike Lee's script. For me, it's annoying that She’s Gotta Have It missed the chance to discuss why black people are fighting for such a minute number of opportunities in the creative industries. But instead, the conversation only scrapes the surface of a much larger issue and pits two minority groups against each other in the process.
Seasons one and two of She's Gotta Have It are on Netflix now