‘She’s Gotta Have It’ was absolutely stunning. I had no idea who Nola Darling was or what I was seeing, but I just knew that it was dope. No, it was more than that, it was beauty transcended past the norms. Each black and white shot was perfectly constructed into this myriad of colors and textures unseen, and I needed to see more. This film originally came into existence in 1986 I was just six years old, so I clearly had some growing up to do before I could take in its audacity, but once I did…my outlook completely changed.
Nola Darling, the films lead, had this big bed with candles lining the headboard dripping down onto its wood frame, creating the effect of luminescent wonder. When does she burn these candles? Only when she’s alone, or only when she is not? Could I do that to my bed? Would my mom be okay with that? “Like, seriously mom, come on, its just a visual representation of my angst…let me do it!” That’s what I would have said, had I ever worked up the courage to ask if I could have a mountain of seductiveness arched atop my beds headboard.
I wanted to be her; she was a juxtaposition of every emotion and desire I needed to express, but couldn’t. I watched the film over and over again until I reached an age where I can fully absorb her feminism. Nola had an around not give a shit what anyone else thinks attitude, I was dying to posses. Nola was a black woman not being portrayed as a crack addict, prostitute, the sassy best friend, or the babysitter. This film starred other black people, but above all Nola was the star, sex symbol, and independent woman all the men around her wanted. This was an anomaly and I was, and still am here for all of it.
Little did I know that this film would change me in ways I couldn’t have imagined. It refined the way I view films, and begin an adoration for its writer and director that lives within me to this date. As an actor/writer we study films to the one-millionth degree-we all think we know everything- but this film was, and still is a game changer. Written by, directed, edited, and starring Spike Lee, the film ‘She’s Gotta Have It’ is nuanced and all too real.
Nola, a woman that is sexually carefree, independent, and fierce. She begins dating three completely different men at the same time. Yes, a woman on film dates three men all at the same time. You know, just like how men have been doing on film forever and praised for it, but I digress. There is a pivotal scene in the film where one of Nola’s boyfriends does what is referred to by Nola, as “nearly rape” and while doing so, repeatedly asks if he’s as good as her other lovers. Essentially taking out all of his insecurities and fragility as a man on her.
How dare this woman behave in a way that’s suitable for us and not her is the feeling you get from the scene…she must be punished for it. After, Lola promises a relationship of fidelity only to him and believes her promiscuity is the source of his rage. They can be together in a monogamous relationship as she wants, but they must now be celibate. She has now forced her own self into the box society and men have placed on her. Seemingly punishing herself for her “promiscuous” ways. Clearly there is so much more to this scene, but I need you to watch it and discern for yourselves.
Does Nola ever stop punishing herself, and does the relationship with Jamie really work out? In the end Nola goes to bed alone before delivering a monologue straight to camera, something Spike Lee incorporates into many of his films. Was her promise of celibacy and fidelity a form of slavery? Is living a sexually free and fluid existence the ultimate freedom for a woman?
She’s Gotta Have It, is cinematically beautiful and shot in black and white. It’s artsy without the fartsy. This film will make you confront every social norm you have placed on yourself, and allowed to be placed there. It is Spike Lee’s first film, made with a budget of a mere $185k and grossing over seven million at the box office. Watch it, learn, and question everything. The way he lines his shots, the signature monologues to camera-but not in that Zach Morris from Saved by the Bell breaking the fourth wall for a laugh way-the minimalism and the beauty of it.
This filmed helped make independent films an actual thing. Due to Spike’s never say die attitude towards creating his classics, I am able to write and see films in ways not possible to me before. When I first heard of Netflix ordering 10 episodes of ‘She’s Gotta have It’ the series, I immediately sent my actor info over for a shot to star in it. I wasn’t picked and that’s okay…because of Spike Lee’s indelible influence on me, I have several screenplays and series I am shopping.
For Spike Lee, and the original Nola (played by Tracy Camilla Johns) I am forever grateful. DeWanda Wise, the beautiful actress that landed the coveted role in the Netflix series of ‘She’s Gotta Have It’ plays Nola Darling in a bright and complex way. Thankfully season two is airing soon and we will all be blessed with a little more Nola.