Spike Lee’s Homenaje to Black Puerto Rico on Netflix’s ‘She’s Gotta Have It’ is Everything You’ll Ever Need
Season two of Netflix’s hit show “She’s Gotta Have It,” directed by Spike Lee, is well underway and one of the season’s most prolific moments was Episode 7’s “Hashtag OhJudoKnow?” This particular episode was written and created by Puerto Rican writer Lemon Andersen. The entire episode was shot throughout various parts of Puerto Rico.
The show, which is a remake of Spike Lee’s 1986 Black cult-classic hit movie of the same name, presented an up-close and personal view of the ongoing devastation of Hurricane Maria and the resilience of la gente puertorriqueña. But most importantly, the audience was immersed in an aspect of Puerto Rican culture that’s seldom seen publicly — Black Puerto Rico.
In the episode, Mars Blackmon (portrayed by Anthony Ramos) makes a pilgrimage back to the “Isla Del Encanto” to visit his mami, Doña Lucy Christina, portrayed by the legendary afro-nuyorican actress Rosie Perez and hermana mayor, Lulu, portrayed by afro-nuyorican actress and chef Santana Caress Benitez. The scene with Mars posted up in front of the statue of Black Puerto Rican baseball legend Roberto Clemente set the tone for the rest of the show.
It was on this journey that the audience and ‘Nola Darling,’ the main character of “She’s Gotta Have It” played by DeWanda Wise, got a rare glimpse of Black Puerto Rico.
Many of the cast members were Black residents of the island.
Doña Lucy Christina and Lulu are oloshas or priestesses in the diasporic African Traditional Faith, Lucumí. Lucumí is known to many as Santería.
Although Catholic saints are often seen as representations of the Orishas, it is an utterly African religion. African slaves masked their orishas with Catholic saints to freely practice the religion. It was a method of survival and a way to preserve the faith they brought with them from the shores of West Africa.
Spike Lee, through Andersen’s artistic vision, highlighted the African faith in two particular scenes. As Nola walked down the streets of Puerto Rico, she came across a beautiful Black woman who was an Olo Oshun or Daughter of Oshun, which refers to the youngest yet highly-adored orisha in the Yoruba pantheon. Children of the highly-respected orisha usually represent her wearing her colors — yellow and gold, among other things.
The other scene took place in Loíza, a city in Puerto Rico, where over 60% of its inhabitants identify as Black. The riveting moment occurred when a bomba y plena circle at the edges of the River Loíza took place and turned into an impromptu tambor or drumming for Oshun.
Bomba and plena are also African in origin and it’s typically danced in a circle with a call and response from the dancer to the drummer. It’s incredibly moving. But nothing was more enchanting when the drummers began the rezo or prayer to Oshun and Nola’s body gave way to possession by the orisha.
Lemon Andersen, beautifully, captured a moment that is often portrayed as primitive and savage. He took time to ensure he embodied the essence of pure, unadulterated negrura or Blackness. Andersen and Lee paid attention to every detail even down to the musical score for this episode of “She’s Gotta Have It.” The episode played everything from bomba to Puerto Rican salsa-great Héctor Lavoe’s “Periódico De Ayer.”
The episode ended with a powerful speech from Black Puerto Rican icon, Pedro Albizu Campos, who was an integral influence in Puerto Rico’s fight for independence.
It was authentic and empowering — everything that Black Puerto Rico embodies.