Throughout all of She’s Gotta Have It, there is only one scene that is ever shot in color. It is the dance given to Nola by Jamie, wherein the movie dramatically shifts into vibrant color with Jamie’s sharp ‘hit it!’. The rest of the film is presented in grayscale. This sudden appearance of color highlights the dance itself, and through this allows us to evaluate the meaning of the dance as it relates to the characters and how they envision the relationship they are pursuing. Obviously, the color sets the dance apart from the rest of the film, but for what purpose? The dance is a gift from Jamie to Nola, and highlighting it with this differentiation morphs the dance into a message from Jamie to Nola. Since it originates from Jamie, the color highlights the characters’ difference in perspective with regard to their relationship.
Jamie, we learn, choreographed the dance and wrote its accompanying song. The same way that we look at Lee’s filmography as a form of commentary beyond its narrative, we can view Jamie’s dance in the same light. The dance becomes a window into Jamie’s internal world, where his perception of the relationship between them becomes clear. The colors contrast sharply with the black and white of the rest of the film.
The absence of color serves to create an objective impression—there is no mood, no psychological weight, added by color. Contrast, instead, adds emotional weight to the scenes. Compound this with the documentary aesthetic, any moral judgment of Nola’s behavior originates solely from the characters within the film, not without.
The colors most prominent in the dance are the lush green background, the blue of the female dancer’s dress, and the white of the male’s outfit and the monument upon which they dance, and the orange, yellows and pinks of the balloons. To Jamie, their relationship is lush and festive, seemingly waiting to bloom into something more. Beneath the festive, personal atmosphere, a parallel color scheme emerges. The shocking blue of the female dancer’s dress and the pearly white of the man’s outfit mirror closely the scene in which the dance is performed—the birthday sign prominently presents Nola’s name in blue, and the decidedly phallic monument on which they dance is entirely white, albeit covered in the rainbow speckling of graffiti. This symmetry conveys that the dance is based on concepts of male dominance, and is aimed directly at Nola (which is only reinforced by the lyrics of the song itself, quite succinctly describing Nola’s personal life). By extension, Jamie’s concept of the relationship places him in the position of power.
At the end of the dance, Nola graciously congratulates the dancers, but she does not seem as pleased with it as Jamie does. This trend of uncertainty about the relationship continues until the two break up at the end of the film. At first, Jamie leaves, and Nola comes back, but finally leaves Jamie. This act is Nola refusing the terms of the relationship Jamie presents to her, as nice as it is, and in so doing refuses to accept the hegemonic ideal of a male-dominated relationship. This detachment from the cultural norms of relationship is what Nola, seemingly, has gotta have. She doesn’t want to submit to the confines of a traditional marriage, and all the other characters in the film cannot deal with it. Yet, as this could be seen as sexism on the part of Spike Lee, the objectivism injected by the grayscale format prevents this accusation from sticking. The only sexism comes from the characters—the film and its auteur are neutral. What Spike Lee has presented us is a girl who has gotta have power over her own life.