By Twanna F.
Art, sex and the freedom to love without restraint. Nola Darling is a melting pot of these ingredients and she is surely an acquired taste. The Spike Lee film, She’s Gotta Have It, was way ahead of its time. Lee uses Nola Darling’s story to touch upon issues of gender norms and control, or a lack thereof. These themes were, and still are, sensitive in the black community. The use of these themes to tell such a unique story was revolutionary, and in this day and age it still holds weight. It came as no surprised to find out that Lee had taken this timeless story and transformed it into a Netflix series. With excitement and high expectations, I ran through the entire series in a weekend. The She’s Gotta Have It series was modernized, but Lee managed to stay true to the original film while adding depth, and development to old and new characters.
As the smooth theme song plays in the background we fade into Nola’s bedroom. She sits in her famous loving bed, surrounded by the candles lining her headboard, and introduces herself. In the monologue, she explains that her lovers think she is a freak, but she believes she is normal. And she is. Her open sexuality threatens and draws in each of her lovers equally for reasons they don’t quite understand. Her lovers, Greer, Jamie and Mars openly question her relationships with the others, because they aren’t used to women having multiple partners.
Nola has several rules when it comes to love; it all has to be on her terms! One rule stood out in the film as well as the series; Nola only makes love in her loving bed. There is power in sex, and Nola maintains sexual power in her relationships by using a home court advantage. Anytime we see Nola in intimate situations outside of her apartment, she becomes much more vulnerable. Nola’s wave of control only goes as far as the length of her loving bed. When she is outside of her safe space, it is easier for the men in her life to exert their perception of who they believe Nola Darling really is. For example, in the Little Black Dress episode, Nola visits Greer at his apartment and allows him to take her photograph. She is wearing her little black dress in hopes of gaining some stability since her assault, but her experiment backfires. While taking her photograph, Greer makes her feel uncomfortable by treating her like one of his models. Commanding her to pose, and pout for the camera in a way that makes her feel objectified. She understands that Greer is the artist, but in that moment, she refused to be his art. Feeling raw and exposed, Nola begins to feel a lack of control over the situation. In her apartment, Nola is the artist. The way her body moves with ease as she loses herself in the waves of pleasure, is art. Nola’s rules for love making perfectly illustrate her desire for control in every aspect of her life. The concept of control poses itself as a reoccurring theme throughout both the film, and the series. Another instance in which the theme of control appears is within her relationship with Opal.
It would be unfair to speak on the development of Nola’s relationships with all her lovers, without including Opal. Contrary to the show, the film portrays Nola’s relationship with Opal as her being the aggressor. Lee depicts her character as forceful, and almost predatory. However, in the series, Opal is a woman that represents safety, stability, and the kind of control over her life that Nola wishes to acquire. Nola finds solace in being with a woman with few insecurities. When discussing her love for Opal to her therapist, Nola explains “She’s not tryna own me” and “I don’t have to fight back all the time”. When Nola is with Opal, she does not have to battle for control over her sexuality. Instead, Opal is understanding and embraces her with open arms. To Nola, Opal is a breath of fresh air, while her other lovers represent parts of her life that do not make her feel whole.
The story of Nola Darling has matured like a fine wine. Spike Lee beautifully maintains timeless elements of the film all while introducing social issues we face today. By extending the story, Lee allows for these relationships, and their characters to fully develop. Additionally, we are given greater insight to who Nola is. She is not a freak. She is the epitome of the black female form; free.