Teaching Students About “She Gotta Have It”: An Exploration of Spike Lee’s Groundbreaking Film


In 1986, a young film director named Spike Lee released his first feature-length film, “She Gotta Have It.” The film, which centers around a young African American woman named Nola Darling as she navigates relationships with three very different men, was groundbreaking for its time. Not only did it bring attention to the then-unknown Spike Lee, but it also addressed subjects like female sexuality, racial identity, and relationships in a way that was both thought-provoking and entertaining. For educators looking to introduce students to diverse voices and perspectives in film, “She Gotta Have It” provides a valuable opportunity. In this article, we will explore how to teach students about this seminal work.

 The Importance of “She Gotta Have It”

First, it is essential for students to understand the historical context of “She Gotta Have It.” In the 1980s, mainstream cinema was predominantly white and male-centric. Spike Lee’s debut film broke the mold by presenting complex African American characters and exploring themes that were taboo for mainstream Hollywood films at the time.

The film’s portrayal of Nola Darling as an empowered and unapologetic woman who embraces her sexuality was groundbreaking. At a time when female characters were frequently relegated to one-dimensional representations or romantic interests of male leads, Nola challenged stereotypes and demonstrated the importance of strong female voices in cinema.

Furthermore, “She Gotta Have It” brought attention to black independent cinema and helped launch critical discussions on the need for broader representation in film. It paved the way for future filmmakers like John Singleton, Ava DuVernay, and Barry Jenkins, allowing them to express their own stories through their work.

Teaching Strategies

1. Before screening the film:

– Provide background information on Spike Lee as a filmmaker and discuss his influences leading to the creation of “She Gotta Have It.”

– Set the stage by discussing film culture and representation in the 1980s.

– Encourage students to consider themes such as female sexuality, racial identity, and relationships as they watch the film.

2. During the screening:

– Encourage students to take notes on specific scenes or dialogue that stand out from a thematic standpoint.

– Instruct them to pay close attention to the film’s cinematography and music, which play an essential role in setting its tone and conveying its message.

3. After the screening:

– Host a class discussion on students’ impressions of the film.

– Delve deeper into specific themes or symbolism within the movie, asking students to provide examples from their notes or recall key moments.

– Have students research contemporary reviews and criticism of “She Gotta Have It” to understand its impact on audiences at the time and its legacy in cinema history.

– Encourage students to compare “She Gotta Have It” with other films that feature strong female characters or address similar themes.


Teaching students about “She Gotta Have It” provides an excellent opportunity for them to explore themes of representation, sexuality, race, and relationships through the lens of Spike Lee’s groundbreaking film. By examining its historical context and engaging in thoughtful discussion, students can better appreciate the significance of this revolutionary work. As educators, we have the responsibility to expose our students to diverse voices and stories that shape our understanding of society – “She Gotta Have It” offers a prime example of how we can fulfill that commitment.

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