“Spike Lee's first feature-length film, She’s Gotta Have It, which was set in Fort Greene, was a turning point for both the neighborhood and for Fort Greene's younger generation of creative artists… She’s Gotta Have It took place in a black neighborhood, it was about black people and it was from a black perspective,” says writer Thulani Davis, “but nobody said anything about that within the context of the narrative. It was taken for granted.” —E.R. Shipp, The New York Times, “Their Muse is Malcolm X” (December 4, 1988)
Tonight’s edition of BAMcinématek’s monthly Brooklyn film series spotlights BAM’s ‘hood in a Fort Greene double-feature with Nelson George’s documentary Brooklyn Boheme about the Fort Greene renaissance in the 80s along with one of the products of that explosive period of creativity, Spike Lee’s debut feature She’s Gotta Have It.
It’s been nearly 26 years since Spike Lee shot his first feature for $175,000 and joined contemporaries Jim Jarmusch and Steven Soderbergh to usher in a new wave of American independent cinema, but the film’s playful, fresh energy and its cultural relevance have not diminished even a tad. Released when Brooklyn still played second fiddle to Manhattan in the eyes of most of the world outside New York, Lee’s film was one of the first cultural entertainment objects that portrayed Brooklyn as a colorful (even if the film is largely black and white), imaginative, and cool habitat—one which possessed a low-key, but vital sense of artistic community that rivaled its more well-advertised neighbor up north. There was more to Brooklyn than crime, car chases, and Coney Island.
It’s fascinating that its release coincided with the infancy of BAM’s Next Wave Festival (launched in 1983) and these were two of the horns that trumpeted to the world that Brooklyn had arrived. Indeed, “Their Muse is Malcolm X,” the seminal New York Times article on Fort Greene’s emergence as a center of black creativity, posits that the rush of media attention on the neighborhood that resulted from Lee’s film fostered a population surge of artists and creative thinkers that was a harbinger of the Brooklyn we know today.
Lee’s love letter to Fort Greene, where his film production company 40 Acres and a Mule still sits only a stone’s throw from BAM, features a handful of well-known Brooklyn locations as well as many Fort Greene shots that capture the flavor of the neighborhood.
Here’s a gallery of memorable images from the film (some of which resemble photographs by Brooklyn photographer Jamel Shabazz):
FORT GREENE PARK:
The film can almost be seen as a tribute to Fort Greene Park (the first Brooklyn park, designed in 1860 by Frederick Law Olmsted [fun fact: Olmsted also co-founded the magazine The Nation] and Calvert Vaux of Central Park and Prospect Park fame), since nearly 1/4th of the film happens in the park.
“Fort Greene Park, a neighborhood gathering place, has been nicknamed ‘She's Gotta Have It Park’ by those who recognize it from several of the movie's scenes.”—The New York Times, “Their Muse is Malcolm X”
|Jamie rhapsodizing about Nola on the benches outside Fort Greene Park.|
|Prison Martyrs' Monument in the snow.|
|The Prison Martyr's Monument during the full-color musical interlude in the center of the film.|
|Prison Martyrs' Monument covered in graffiti. It's since been scrubbed clean.|
|Kids in Fort Greene Park|
WILLIAMSBURGH SAVINGS BANK:
|I think that's Atlantic Terminal in the foreground, but it's just a guess.|
PEOPLE IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD:
THE BROOKLYN HEIGHTS PROMENADE: