‘She’s Gotta Have It’ Writer Pens Open Letter To John Boyega Over Black Brit Episode
Folks have been struggling with the second season of Spike Lee’s Netflix show She’s Gotta Have It, and much of the struggle was exemplified in a cringe-y conversation between Nola Darling (played by DeWanda Wise) and her Black Brit bae Olu (played by Michael Luwoye).
The two discuss Black British actors taking roles from Black American actors and Olu argues that British actors are more equipped for certain roles because they don’t have to carry the burden of Black American history. Nola then tries to explain to Olu that Black Brits aren’t “unburdened,” and she even goes as far to say that Black Brits have Stockholm syndrome and fell in love with their captors. At one point, Nola also mispronounces the names of Black British stars John Boyega and Chiwetel Ejiofor.
The convo sparked a major Internet debate with many people dragging how the conversation was handled. Even John Boyega chimed in, calling the scene “trash.”
Well now, the writer behind the episode, Barry Michael Cooper, is speaking out. He posted a lengthy (and we mean LENGTHY) open letter to Boyega on IndieWire.
Here’s a few excerpts:
“In all fairness, Mr. Boyega, you have every right to be incensed by the intentional mispronunciation of you and Mr. 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 I wrote Nola’s politicized screed not only to be provocative, but to also bracket her riposte with a historical reference.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. 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.”
Cooper went on to say that the episode’s dialogue was in response to comments by Samuel L. Jackson claiming Black Brits were taking all the Black American roles, and the resulting comments from British actor 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.”
Whew…that was a lot.
You can check out Cooper’s full letter here if you dare, and let us know what you think of his response.
Was the controversial dialogue good writing, or should the whole SGHI writing team dig deeper?