'She's Gotta Have It' star Ciera Payton says Spike Lee was 'ahead of his time' in his treatment of female characters
In 1986, when director, producer, writer and actor Spike Lee created the black and white comedy-drama 'She's Gotta Have It', he sent out massive waves across the film industry.
The story of a young woman seeing three men, refusing to commit to any of them, and cherishing her personal freedom instead, was something out of the ordinary.
The 1986 Lee project was adapted into a Netflix series in 2017 and the first season opened to raving reviews praising Lee for creating a fun, fascinating, feminist tale and bringing it back for a new generation.
The movie was doubtlessly ahead of its time particularly with its protagonist Nola Darling, a young attractive Brooklynite who live a sexually liberated lifestyle.
When actress Ciera Payton watched the 1986 film, she figured it was ahead of its time not only with regards to the sexually liberated nature of the plot but also in its treatment of female characters.
"I saw it [the 1986 film by Spike Lee 'She's Gotta Have It'] a few years ago for the 30th anniversary. I remember sitting there and clutching my pearls, as the expression goes, in shock, because I thought it was very sexually provocative and challenged all taboos when it comes to women’s sexual appetite. When I left the theater, I remember thinking, 'Spike was ahead of his time'," Payton tells MEA WorldWide (MEAWW) in an exclusive chat.
The actress, who is all set to star in the second season of the contemporary telling of Lee's 1986 project, explains how the film broke black stereotypes. "I come from New Orleans — a fun, cultural city. However, people would think that we are just these sexually free and liberated people. But New Orleans is a Catholic City and is predominantly black. So there’s a huge undercurrent of societal, religious expectations of how black women are meant to behave. And then you have a movie and now a series like 'She’s Gotta Have It' that normalizes all the things that women are taught that are bad. It’s quite remarkable in that sense," she says.
Payton says she's proud to be associated with Lee's series. "What I love best about the show is that it gives the audience the freedom to be their true selves; sexually, artistically, style-wise, etc. It gives a new and empathetic look at millennials of color. It’s a dope show and I’m proud to be a part of it."
The plotline of the series is not very different from the original film it is based on — except for its contemporary treatment of the subject.
In the second season of the show, Payton essays the role of Jameelah Hawkins. "[Jameelah] is a corporate businesswoman who crosses paths with Nola Darling. She’s drawn to Nola’s beauty; both physically and artistically. However, she’s at the beck and call of the corporate world and is stuck with the challenge to do the right thing," she says, wary of disclosing too much.
As an actor, Payton describes herself as "resilient, mystical, and confident" — characteristics that she says reflect through her onscreen portrayal of Jameelah in 'She's Gotta Have It'. "[Jameelah] stays optimistic and under no circumstance will she let you see her crack. We all wear masks but if Jameelah drops hers for a second, it will cost her a lot. So she keeps it up through all the challenges."
The series 'She's Gotta Have It' is about a woman struggling to stay true to herself (Nola Darling played by DeWanda Wise) as she juggles love and everything else — this is a story that you and I both recognize as a story of all women.
Payton says this power to juggle several things at once is what makes women what they are.
"I think we [women], by nature, are just built for multitasking; built for taking on many things and conquering them all. It’s part of our power. It’s what makes us these mystical beings," says. "I remember seeing my grandmother, Sarah Payton, getting up at 4 am, putting on her two prosthetic legs, wheeling herself down the hallway, making breakfast for the grandkids, and sending us off to school. When we’d get home, there would be food on the stove and she’d be sitting in the living room shelling peas or collard greens while watching the news and talking on the phone with one of her twelve children. She balanced so much and truly taught me the makings of a strong wise woman."
"We’re strong and powerful and so, so much is expected of women. Is it easy? Depends on how you look at it? But, is it possible? Has it been done? Yes absolutely, always."
The first season of the series is available to stream on Netflix and the second season will premiere on May 24.