The Return of Nola Darling
Nia Hampton | Monday October 16th 2017
This Thanksgiving, Spike Lee is bringing to Netflix his miniseries adaptation of his first feature film, She’s Gotta Have It, which originally premiered 31 years ago and is largely considered to have changed the landscape of black cinema as we know it.
The official synopsis, as relayed by Collider.com
“The seriously sexy comedy stars breakout actress DeWanda Wise as Nola Darling, an uncompromising woman in her late twenties struggling to define herself and divide her time among her Friends, her Job and her Three Lovers: The Cultured Model, Greer Childs, The Protective Investment Banker, Jamie Overstreet and Da Original B-Boy Sneakerhead, Mars Blackmon. Nola is not who you want her to be. Nola is now—she is outspoken, complicated, progressive, unapologetic, passionate, sexual.. Spike Lee directs all 10 episodes of the series, he created and produced the show. Tonya Lewis Lee is Executive Producer. Barry Michael Cooper and Lynn Nottage are also Producers. She’s Gotta Have It was SPIKE’s landmark film which he shot in 12 days during the long hot summer of 1986. The film signaled a change of how African Americans are portrayed in movies. The new She’s Gotta Have It is his first TV series.”
The collective response to the series adaption has been sheer excitement. She’s Gotta Have It is lauded as a classic film that truly challenged the ideas of what representation of sexually liberated black women should look like. And I’m personally excited to see Dewanda Wise portray Nola Darling. I became a fan during the last season of “Underground” in which she played Clara, a naive and ultimately dangerous slave. She’s incredibly beautiful with a dark chocolate complexion and honey brown eyes, but more importantly she brings great depth to her characters as an actor.
I am definitely expecting to come out of my binge-watching feeling especially refreshed, but after watching the trailer I have just one issue. Nola Darling is a Brooklyn-based artist who calls herself, “polyamorous, pansexual”, which, to me (and most others), articulates into “queer”. But, from the trailer and everything I’ve read about the series, it appears that Nola is dating three different men at the same time. Unless one of these men comes out as transsexual, I wonder how deeply the series will be diving into the world of pansexuality, which is defined as sexual attraction to any person of any sex or gender. I’m hoping to be proven wrong in the first season. Perhaps there will be episodes dedicated to expanding on Nola’s dating history that justify this identification despite her currently dating three cis-hetero men.
When I initially watched the trailer, the character Mars Blackmon screamed genderqueer to me. And apparently the character Greer Childs is very “experimental” in bed. The third love interest, Jamie Overstreet, appears to be the most traditional male figure in Nola’s “hoe-tation”. However this description does reveal itself, I hope that Spike shows growth in his portrayal of the sexually liberated black woman, a theme he has grappled with at times.
Spike’s 2004 film She Hate Me, starring Anthony Mackie and Kerry Washington, was about a lot of things, but most notably a lesbian woman discovering her sexuality while in a hetero-normative relationship. Fatima (played by Kerry Washington), goes on to rope her ex-lover (Anthony Mackie) into selling his sperm to lesbian couples for thousands of dollars. In a sense, this film was Spike Lee’s take on another side of black women’s sexuality; lesbianism.
Personally, I like the film – I learned a lot about myself in watching it. It’s one of the few that does not feature black lesbians in a pornographic way, though there are quite a few steamy scenes. The film was highly criticized for a variety of reasons, and many felt it was an inauthentic take on what lesbian love looks like. An accurate portrayal of black lesbian love is something I always thought of as impossible to accomplish, until I saw Lena Waithe’s Emmy award winning “Thanksgiving” episode of Master of None. Now I know that it can be done, and now that Waithe has raised the bar on the way we tell these stories, I’m expecting a lot from those who try to do the same.
She’s Gotta Have It has potential to evolve beyond the dated version of Spike Lee’s past work if he allows Nola Darling to become the black queer icon we so desperately need. Currently, queerness is synonymous with whiteness, and it hurts my queer black girl heart. We all have to wait until this Thanksgiving to see how true to 2017 She’s Gotta Have It will turn out to be. But in the meantime, I’ll be watching Brown Girls and Build-a Boo to hold me over.
Photo Courtesy of Netflix