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#BackChannel: ‘She’s Gotta Have It’ And Rewinding Pop Culture In 2017

As the year comes to a close, popular culture experts Natalie Bullock Brown, professor of film and broadcast media at St. Augustine’s University in Raleigh, and Mark Anthony Neal, chair of the department of African and African American studies at Duke University in Durham, recap some of the best cultural moments from 2017 with host Frank Stasio. 

They share some of their favorites in music, movies and television, including North Carolina-native Rapsody’s critically-acclaimed album “Laila’s Wisdom” and the box-office success “Girls Trip.

They also discuss the new Netflix series “She’s Gotta Have It” by filmmaker Spike Lee and compare it to his debut 1986 film of the same name.

View the trailer below for "She's Gotta Have It" (2017):

On the reboot of “She’s Gotta Have It”:

Natalie Bullock Brown: I really appreciate – and it doesn’t happen often that artists get to go back and re-do something – that Spike took the opportunity to re-envision “She’s Gotta have It,” and that he has the space to do it in a series format. Also that he incorporated more voices from women – more female voices … There are all these black women who are pouring into this story and the storytelling, and it’s so clear. It really makes a difference even as Spike has been able to hold on to some of the things that are really precious and cherished as the original.

Mark Anthony Neal: When you look at a show like “Living Single” from 20 years ago, and you think about new shows now like “Insecure” and “Chewing Gum,” there is a way in which Nola Darling and Spike Lee’s depiction of her 1986 was an introduction to this particular narrative. So Spike Lee is trying to reintegrate his voice into this conversation about single black women that in some ways he started – at least in terms of television and film – going back some 30 years ago.


Rapsody, “Laila’s Wisdom”

Natalie Bullock Brown: I’m not really what people would term a “hip-hop head” … Rapsody harkens back to the time when I did listen to hip-hop. She seems to be really steeped in old-school traditional hip-hop. She is a lyricist. She is able to stand with the best of the lyricists, whether they are today or from back in the day. I think that is so important because she’s a woman. Women in hip-hop are so often marginalized to the sidelines because either they are in the tradition of someone like Lil’ Kim or Foxy Brown and are totally sexualized, or they are not necessarily recognized for their abilities. And Rapsody, from what I’ve heard, she is someone that men and women, hip-hop heads and not, all respect because they see in her what the best of hip-hop can be.

Lizz Wright, “Grace”

Mark Anthony Neal: Lizz Wright is a southern artist. So this album is produced by Joe Henry, who is a North Carolina songwriter and producer. Lizz Wright initially imagined “Grace” as kind of a tribute to the South. In some ways all of her music has functioned that way, but after the election it took on a different kind of tint. It felt a little different. So she does a cover of “Southern Nights,” and this is important because it’s a song written by Allen Toussaint, the great southern producer whose last album was actually produced by Joe Henry. It becomes most well-known because Glen Campbell has a pop song with it. So what does it mean that this black woman in  2017 can recover the legacy of these kinds of pillars, these male pillars of popular music … It’s both a tribute to who they are,  but it’s also a recognition of a black woman’s voice in this moment.


“Girls Trip”

Natalie Bullock Brown: I got three words for you. It’s fun. It’s irreverent, and it’s about sisterhood. It’s not the best film in the world, but I laughed from almost beginning to end in ways that I have not laughed at a film in a long time. So it’s worth its weight in gold for that experience.

Mark Anthony Neal: We’ve been talking about black women saving Alabama last week. This is black women saving Hollywood. To show that there is a formula to have a successful Hollywood film that didn’t involve spending $150 million and having all kinds of aliens and superheroes to try and tell a narrative. This is just a group of black women enjoying being black women – enjoying themselves in the context of the film and proving that they can produce entertainment that can make money that will be enjoyable not just for black audiences but for a growing audience as well.

“Get Out”

Natalie Bullock Brown: This was sort of a revelation in ways because it is the brainchild and is directed by Peele of Key & Peele, which is a comedic duo. Not only is it funny and really sort of high comedy, it is intellectual and kind of heady. But it is also searing and analysis of this racial moment, and it’s not a moment. It’s addressing how racism permeates our society in ways that are serious and subtle. I don’t think people were expecting this to be as weighty as it actually is.

“Cars 3”

Mark Anthony Neal: So “Cars” has been such a successful franchise for Pixar, and because I still have a daughter who is young enough that I have to watch children’s movies, I try to pay attention to them. And the really good “children’s movies” are ones that also really speak to certain adult realities. And when all is said and done, this is a film about what it means to be middle aged and confronting your own irrelevance – the lack of success in your career and how you actually do that gracefully. That is what this film is about. And what really got me onto the film is watching the trailer, and they would play The Eagles “Take It To The Limit,” which kind of triggered a certain nostalgia in me, and when I finally saw the film I was like, “Oh, I got it.”

Charlie Shelton-Ormond is a podcast producer for WUNC.
Longtime NPR correspondent Frank Stasio was named permanent host of The State of Things in June 2006. A native of Buffalo, Frank has been in radio since the age of 19. He began his public radio career at WOI in Ames, Iowa, where he was a magazine show anchor and the station's News Director.
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