I'm pleased to finally meet the flawed, yet whole Nola Darling, both through her and the women who love her.
I remember when I first met Nola Darling in 2007 during a university film class. Yes, she was alluring and sexy and like other people who had seemingly wandered into her path, I desperately wanted to get to know her. But I only saw glimpses of Nola through the eyes of those who wished to possess her. Who was she as an artist? How did she regain a sense of herself whenever she experienced abuse or mistreatment? Hell, did she have any real friends who didn't wish to sleep with her, aside from Clorinda? Spike Lee's inaugural She's Gotta Have It is as much the mark of an immature filmmaker as it is a cinematic staple. While the 1986 film about a free-spirited, polyamorous woman may have cemented his career, its poor treatment of her left so much to be desired. One of Lee's more egregious missteps showed in the way Nola was denied any opportunity to process her varied moments of potential trauma — from her verbally abusive relationship with international playboy Greer Childs, to her own brutal rape by Jamie Overstreet. Even in the face of predatory behavior (from the only LGBTQIA character, mind you — another notable mistake) she is unflappable, the perfectly uncomplicated object of the vintage male gaze. Nola is mysterious, self-assured, sexy, and strong-willed, but she never feels whole.31 years later, Spike Lee has revisited She's Gotta Have It for Netflix, and the episodic do-over is welcomed for a number of reasons. Nola (DeWanda Wise) and the men in her life — Childs (Cleo Anthony), seasoned, the now professional Overstreet (Lyriq Bent), and the iconic, charismatic Mars Blackmon (Anthony Ramos) — are fleshed out beyond their original caricatures. Nola is openly queer and involved with business owner and mother Opal Gilstrap (Ilfenesh Hadera). Best of all, Nola experiences trauma that isn't gratuitous, but relatable while allowing her to maintain her power. And when the time arrives for her to process her pain, she has a number of women to whom she can turn.