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A Jazzy Director Who's Got It


"Come on, Darryl. Hit one out of here!"

Spike Lee was sitting on the edge of his seat at Dodger Stadium last week when New York Mets slugger Darryl Strawberry smacked a line drive into the left-field corner for a ground-rule double.

"Way to go, Darryl!" Lee shouted, standing up and waving his Mets cap as Strawberry loped into second base.

The young New York film maker was enjoying more than just another Mets victory. Lee was in Los Angeles doing interviews for his new movie, "She's Gotta Have It." The ultra low-budget film, an erotic comedy about a black woman with three lovers twirled around her finger, has received rave reviews, broken box-office records in New York and won Lee a three-picture distribution deal with Island Films.

But Hollywood can wait. The 29-year-old black film maker preferred to celebrate his new success by making his first trip to Dodger Stadium, razzing local fans with boasts about an upcoming Mets' World Series victory.

A sports fan, Lee peppered his film with several references to Gotham sports heroes, including Knicks basketball star Bernard King, who was at the film's New York premiere.

"Bernard liked the movie a lot, especially the jokes about the Celtics," said Lee, who cheerily acknowledged that he used his chance meeting with the Knicks star to hustle better season tickets.

"If you hate the Celtics, you'll love my movie! We dog 'em the whole film. I don't think there's a black person in America that doesn't hate the Celtics. You watch--someone is definitely going to punch out Danny Ainge this season!"

But forget about the Celtics. What makes Lee's new film so striking is its fresh and sassy look at black sexual mores. "She's Gotta Have It" is crammed with barbed character sketches, both of its candidly promiscuous heroine, Nola Darling, and her trio of loyal suitors, led by a cocky, jive-talking clown named Mars Blackmon played by Lee.

Much of the film's comic flair and its dramatic weight derives from how these three impassioned rivals, who carefully guard their own sexual freedom, seethe over Nola's carefree attitude toward her bedroom escapades. This frank commentary comes as a revelation, especially to audiences weaned on Hollywood films, which examine black sexuality about as often as they celebrate the glory of polar ice-cap expeditions.

"You should see the faces of black people when they come out of the theaters--it's like they were hit by lightning," said Lee, a brash, colorful guy whose braggadocio is tempered by a quick wit that has led one writer to dub him "a black Woody Allen."

"These black folks have been starved for a real film like this. They're telling me, 'I know girls like this' and 'I know dogs (men) like that.' What's happening here is that this film is opening the door a crack for other young black independent film makers. 'Cause this film can't be ignored. It's making money and no one ignores that."

Lee pointed his finger in the air. "Let's face it. Hollywood is scared of black sexuality, so they leave it alone. Look at Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy. They're the comic relief. It's the white guys who get the romance.

"It's amazing. You hear people say how there are plenty of black movies now, like 'Beverly Hills Cop.' Come on! Eddie Murphy was the only black guy in it!"

Lee confessed that he was somewhat intimidated by the prospect of creating the pivotal Nola Darling character in the film.

"I wanted to tell the story of a black woman who was living her life as a man, except that she was totally honest and open about it," said Lee, who wore black Reebok sneakers, pink patterned shorts and a tiny earring in his left ear. "Most men are never that honest. They say, 'Baby, you're the only one I love!' But five minutes later, with another woman, they're still saying, 'Baby, you're the only one I love!' "

Lee grinned. "A lot of my friends are into boasting about their stable of women. Yet if one of their women sees another man, they go through the roof.

"I knew I couldn't be an authority on black female sexuality, so before we started the film, a friend and I put together a sex survey with 35 very personal questions. And we got 35 women to answer them, which surprised me, because I sure wouldn't have answered them!

"We found women who were still virgins, women who'd been to bed with 100 men, even women who'd been in the middle," he said. "It really helped free up my imagination. I didn't worry so much about women's reaction after that."

Not that Lee needs to worry. The film's male characters are the butt of most of the jokes. "I think the men like it," Lee said. "But the women are really loving it."

Lee's character, Mars, provides plenty of laughs too. With his supersonic raps and a hair-do that features an arrow carved down the back of his head, he's a blast of fresh comic air, a B-boy (New York slang for a street kid) with a sly sense of humor.

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