There was a ton of buzz surrounding Spike Lee’s remake of his debut film “She’s Gotta Have It.” Those who had seen the original film, and even those who hadn’t were excited to see how Spike Lee would re boot this classic as a series. As a film maker, Spike Lee has always pushed the envelope with his “I’ll say what I want to say,” attitude – and Black folks (most of us) love him for it, despite his shortcomings with the lack of depth he brings to his female characters. So when the series was released on Netflix, the anticipation had boiled over and social media timelines were taken over by criticisms and praises for the new series, and once again, Spike Lee proved that he just doesn’t get it.
Nola Darling, the character who was supposed to be a reflection of the Black millennial woman, fell so short of that expectation that it was almost comical. The original Nola Darling was by far, ahead of her time with the way she handled her sexuality and her constant refusal to be owned by any man. In the reboot though, Ms. Nola Darling’s character is neither transcendent or even current for that matter. As a writer and filmmaker myself, I try not to be too critical of other people’s work, because it is their representation, their creative work. But as I watched the series, I couldn’t help but to laugh at the corniness of the characters and dialogue, which Zoé Samudzi, writer for Vice described as “strained, overly witty Gilmore Girls-esque banter,” and I could not agree more. Watching the series, I often found myself asking “Who are these people?” and “Who really talks like that?”
In addition to the corny dialogue, which just shows how out of touch Spike Lee is with the Black millennial woman, I cringed at the forced nature of Nola Darling’s character. One cringe worthy moment was when she described herself as a “sex-positive, polyamorous, pansexual.”
Umm excuse me, what?
Just that description alone sounds like it came from someone who literally sat there and said “These are the cool buzz words that all my friends in Buschwick are using so… let’s go for it.” Aside from missing the mark, and actually describing nothing at all, the description’s alliteration comes off as an attempt to be poetic and screams of someone who has relocated to Brooklyn from the Midwest, attended Afro Punk, got a nose piercing, a head scarf, and an Audre Lorde book and decided that they were suddenly “down.”
Dialogue is a key factor in character development, and “She’s Gotta Have It” has scored a C- in that department. Coming from Spike, who is a fellow New Yorker, and a born and bred Brooklynite – I expected something a lot better.
Now let’s get to the most cringe worthy part about “She’s Gotta Have It.” – the story line. Before I get into that part, let me say, I do have a deep appreciation for seeing Black faces on my TV screen, playing roles that aren’t the typical “token” Black friend in a White washed feature film or the hood in a BET movie. However, what I enjoy even more, are characters with substance and a fresh story line.
But back to the story line. Nola Darling, the polyamorous, free spirit, artist finds strength in the freedom and control she has over her sexuality, and the evasion of being possessed by men which I agree, is a very empowering message and the reason why we all fell in love with Nola Darling many years ago. The men she is dating all hold their specific purpose in her life, and must play by her rules. Here’s when it gets weird though – and downright offensive. While dating these men, Nola then goes on to date a woman named Opal. A beautiful, smart, and independent woman who identifies as a lesbian. During her hiatus from dick, Nola realizes that her relationship with Opal is free of drama, possessiveness, and the annoyances of hyper masculinity. Nola then goes back to her male suitors once her relationship with Opal is over.
Here is what is wrong with that narrative. This story line perpetuates the stereotype and long held belief of heterosexual men, that all women loving women are really just confused, un settled, and will eventually find their way back to the light – between the sheets with a man – because after all, that’s what all women want right? Not to say that a woman who dates both men and women should be judged, that is not the point at all. The point is, that Nola’s dick break is written just as that, and is clearly a heteronormative scope of queerness.
Now, Nola did describe herself as pansexual, however Opal isn’t introduced until episode four and her relationship with Nola seems to be the direct result of Nola growing tired of the b.s. of heterosexual dating. The entire arrangement misses the mark completely. What we (queer Black folk) don’t need is the “gay for a day” representation being played out as if it is somehow empowering. Had a woman (Opal, the next door neighbor, any woman at all) been introduced into Nola’s dating circle during the onset, then her relationship with Opal would have read more genuine and less of an experiment or exploit. Up until Opal is introduced, Nola is portrayed as a heterosexual woman, dropping the whole “pansexual” line seems to be a mere after thought – a script edit – in a half assed attempt to be inclusive.
Nola Darling’s queerness is as forced as her septum ring. As uncomfortable as a “why does everything have to be about race,” comment from a White co worker. As unsatisfying as a PBJ sandwich with no milk.
Thanks, but no Thanks Spike.
If there is to be a second season, and if Spike really wants to paint a picture of what Black queerness looks like, the first thing he needs to do is expand his own narrow, heterosexual mind. Then, hire some queer Black writers to develop this “queer on accident,” nauseatingly-surface character lacking dimension. Thanks.
The Black Queer Delegation