The story of Nola Darling is as necessary now as it was nearly 30 years ago when we were first introduced to her.
Whether you’re a diehard fan of Spike Lee’s original 1986 film, She’s Gotta Have It, or you watched the new serialized version of the film this weekend, it’s clear that Nola’s relevance remains intact. In the new Netflix series adaptation, unapologetic Black female sexuality takes center stage, but this time it’s for a new generation.
Nola 2.0 (played by DeWanda Wise) is—to borrow a line directly from her mouth—a “sex-positive polyamorous pansexual.” She’s not a fan of one-word labels. In the ‘80s this description would’ve been whittled down by outsiders to, “Nola’s a freak.”
She’s dating three men at once: Jamie Overstreet (Lyriq Bent), Greer Childs (Cleo Anthony) and Mars Blackmon (Anthony Ramos), and the trio couldn’t be any more different from one another. Jamie is a successful, married, father of one who recites poetry. Greer is as beautiful as he is vain and a man who insists on masterfully folding his clothes before sex. While Mars is a grown-man-child who makes her laugh. As we learn later across the 10-episodes, if you add them all up, they equal Nola’s ideal Adonis.
Yet unlike the series, when she decides to take a break from the boys, she openly dates Opal Gilstrap (Ilfenesh Hadera) a lesbian mother who runs a plant nursery in Brooklyn. And it’s with Opal we witness Nola’s growth. Her insatiable appetite for sex and love are sated, well, at least for the time being.
Had Lee opted to depict a same-sex relationship in the same way in the original — which dropped in the midst of the uber-conservative Reagan era — we may have never heard from him again.
Though to compare Lee’s original film, a project written and directed by him — a movie which also launched his career — to the series, misses the point. In 2017, the sight of Black women owning their bodies on television, the big screen and even on social media is still considered risqué. In some cases even dangerous. Rarely are Black women given the space to be sexual without a chorus of hate comments and harsh judgement. Look no further than the comments section under a carefree Cardi B selfie to be reminded of how freely the world comes for liberated Black women.
Even with Issa Rae’s Insecure, how unfortunate was it that her character labeled, what should be a normal part of personal self-discovery, a “hoe phase.” While funny and hella cute on the surface, it’s 2017. If a former reality TV star with no political background can become president, asking for more roles where Black women can be humans who own their sexuality without the burden of guilt isn’t a stretch. If anything we got a huge taste of that with this summer’s hit, Girls Trip. Nola is by no means perfect, far from it. Though her journey is unique enough to remind viewers that when it comes to depictions of sex and Black womanhood on screen, variety is still virtually absent. We’re still often portrayed as victims, rarely the victor.
Here’s hoping we see more Nolas in the future.
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