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Lyriq Bent isn't afraid of the truth — and neither is Spike Lee

The "She's Gotta Have It" star takes on racism, gentrification and the concept of mo' money, mo' problems.
Lyriq Bent She's Gotta Have It Netflix Premiere
Lyriq Bent TK TK TK. Johnny Nunez/Getty Images for Netflix

When Spike Lee’s debut feature “She’s Gotta Have It” came out in 1986, Lyriq Bent was seven years old. And the 38-year-old actor didn’t see it until he got the job co-starring in Lee’s new updated TV version.

In the 2017 “She’s Gotta Have It,” which premiered on Netflix last week, we get updated versions of all the old characters, first and foremost hero Nola Darling (DeWanda Wise), a free-spirited young Fort Greene resident currently dating three men. One of them is Bent’s Jamie Overstreet, her richest and most chivalrous beau — a successful businessman with a family who learns that his upscale life in Brooklyn Heights doesn’t protect him from the world’s ills.

We chatted with the Toronto native about gentrification, the checks and balances of being black in America and the truth about Spike Lee. 

Watching the original “She’s Gotta Have It,” from 1986, and the new show must be surprising. You see how much Brooklyn has changed, but we’re still talking about many of the same issues.

A lot of it is still taboo, a lot of it is still relevant. You see how little has moved forward. The problem or issues we had 30 years ago we’re still dealing with now. We have to ask ourselves why there’s been so little movement.

The men in “She’s Gotta Have It” can be foolish. Even the best of the three can be too possessive with Nola.

These men tend to behave in a way they think women want them to behave, as opposed to just being themselves and treating women the way they feel they should be treated. But it’s not just men. A lot of people behave based on what’s around them as opposed to who they are. Women try to be something society tells them to be, and men are telling them what we think we want them to be.

It’s a weird cycle. I don’t know how we break it, but shows like this definitely provoke thought and make us think about how we view each other.

One of the main ideas on the show is gentrification, but you see how older residents try to make it work with their newer, richer and often whiter neighbors. They try to engage them, try to get everyone to work together to make everything better.

It takes an actual community — the whole village mentality. We’re still not there yet, where communities can band together to create real change. We’re still waiting for congressmen and –women to do these things for us. But politically it’s not in their interest in some cases. So we’re constantly left in a state of despair, thinking, ‘When are we going to be thrown a bone?’ These days someone’s not going to ride in on that white horse and save us from our problems. We still need to come together as a community.

Jamie is the richest of the characters, and it seems like he assumed being wealthy would inculcate him from racial problems. They don’t, and you see him grappling with that, even having a talk with his son about how being black in America means having what he calls a “double consciousness.”

Money doesn’t fix your problems, especially when they’re racial issues. If you have money and live in a certain zip code, it doesn’t mean that you aren’t of a certain ethnicity. If you’re living in a neighborhood where you’re the only person like that, you’re going to be seen as that, no matter how much money you have. When you step out of your lane, they’re going to let you know.

Jamie has to realize that he needs to fix himself, so that he’s thinking properly, so that he’s woke, so he’s not asleep, thinking that money makes him better than the next person beside him. Because it doesn’t.

Spike Lee is a very opinionated person, but he’s also very open to others’ voices. He could have portrayed Jamie as evil, but he clearly has a lot of empathy for his plight.

Spike is a person who’s feared by many in our industry, because they think he’s “opinionated” or “strong-willed.” I disagree with all of that. I think the man is very honest with who he is and what he sees around him and what is happening.

The moment you point your finger at the truth, you’re a problem. People don’t want you to be a whistle-blower, because then you become a problem. Well, the real problem is injustice, the real problem is racism and sexism. There are people who don’t want to lose the control or the power or the money, whatever it is they’re fighting for. They’re living a lie because they’re getting by; they’re living life and making money, so don’t shake the tree. And Spike’s not that dude.

I like folks like that. I like people who have their own opinions, have their own minds and are willing to say, “I’d rather die free than live as a slave.”

 
 
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