WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD
Netflix’s She’s Gotta Have It reboot stars DeWanda Wise as Nola Darling, a Black, polyamorous, bisexual woman living in New York. Spike Lee transforms this reboot into a millennial version of its film predecessor, while still keeping it classic and cool as Nola Darling explores her sexuality and confidently lives her life as an artist.
Nola finds herself in several different relationships. The first season of the show highlights how Nola juggles the three men in her life who are all aware she is dating other people. However, all three men fall in love with Nola and want her all to themselves. Nola refuses to belong to anyone, as she is focused on herself, her artwork, and her activism. The confidence exudes out of Nola, as she firmly believes in herself and her message. Spike Lee does a wonderful job with the unique art design, making Nola even more magical.
Nola’s relationships come to a halt, however, after she is assaulted by a man on the street after just trying to walk home. Nola dives into her art, displaying it all across the city anonymously, to illuminate the fact she is no one’s property and should not be frightened to walk home. This is powerful and hits home for many women. Nola’s art is a brilliant act of reclaiming her power and redefines how the men in her life view her.
After creating and publishing her art, Nola ends up taking a break from all the men in her life. She swears off men for a while and decides to further explore her sexuality. Cue: Opal. While Nola is on her cleanse from men, she conveniently begins to run into Opal. This may be initially an eye-roll moment because it does seem rather forced. However, fans of the show will quickly fall in love with Opal, too. Opal is deeply loving, and a mother herself, so she fills the need in Nola’s life to be cared for and respected. Suddenly, it feels to the viewer as if Nola is finally cleansing and coming into her own. Nola and Opal’s relationship is refreshing and gives a sense of calm. Not to mention, the pair are extremely beautiful together. *swoons*
Opal is exactly what Nola needs because she does not view Nola through the male gaze. While Ms. Darling was in a relationship with three different men, she felt viewed in a certain way by all three of them. In contrast, Opal accepts and loves Nola just as she is — a free spirit and all. At least, for a little while. Nola bails on a playdate with Opal’s daughter because she was working on her art, and by doing so, Opal promptly breaks up with Nola. Oof. The two continue to go back and forth, but what is consistently interesting is how torn up Nola was from the breakup.
Nola is terrified of commitment. Even the title of the show, She’s Gotta Have It, implies that Nola wants what she wants and will not apologize for it. When Opal breaks up with Nola, it shifts Nola’s entire perspective on relationships. She beings to realize that maybe she does want to settle, maybe being with a woman that deeply understands her is the healthiest course of action. Maybe, just maybe, falling in love is what she wants. Eventually, Nola does her own thing again. The concept of sexual deviance does not seem to fit Nola Darling, instead, Nola just does not want to be put in a box. Nola wants to love who she loves, when she wants to love, and confidently claims her sexuality exactly how it is.
She’s Gotta Have It delves into the issues with the male gaze through Nola. Nola’s journey to self-love and acceptance is filtered through her need of approval from men. When Nola starts dating Opal, she falls hard and fast and begins to question her chosen lifestyle. This might be because being with a woman releases Nola from her desire of male approval, and allows her to be herself completely and openly. Hence why Nola’s relationship with Opal seems so refreshing. Cleansing, even. This, however, terrifies Nola even more as she had not considered monogamy in a very long time.
However, could it be that Nola uses Opal to find herself, rather than giving Opal what she needs? Is the on and off relationship between the two women evidence of stereotypical lesbian tropes? Maybe. It seems as if Nola gets much more out of her relationship with Opal than Opal gets from her. Nola learns more about herself, her identity, and her sexuality while Opal mostly is stressed out 24/7 and having to create harsh lines with Nola. Opal’s boundary setting is healthy and debunks the idea that lesbians suffer from Peter Pan syndrome and cannot mature, but does Nola feed into that stereotype? In many ways, Nola does fit the stereotype of the impulsive, hypersexual bisexual woman, and it is entirely possible that she was unintentionally using Opal for her own personal growth.
Nola could have been using Opal this entire time, except for one major thing: Nola fell in love. This is the first relationship where viewers see Nola completely infatuated with someone, wanting to show how much she loves them and earn their trust. Nola even makes a consistent effort to get to know Opal’s daughter, and the two become close. Opal and Nola work together to set healthy boundaries, as Opal inspires Nola to create change in her life. While the couple is on-and-off, and Nola still has a lot of growing up to do, it is clear that Nola did not purposefully use Opal, as she finally seems at peace.
Nola does go on to explore her sexuality with men and women again. As Nola learns more and more about herself throughout each episode she begins to gain clarity on exactly why she desperately craves male approval. Why does the idea of a man wanting her trigger her? Nola is no one’s property, and she makes that abundantly clear through her confidence and her artwork. Similar to the film version, Nola highlights the distinct contrast and struggle between men and women. The first season, in particular, stays pretty true to the film and highlights the difference in relationship dynamics.
Throughout the second season, Nola focuses on her art and her relationship with Opal. Nola blossoms as she finally accepts the love Opal is giving her, and the refreshing theme between the two is still present. They get back together again! Yay! However, A LOT goes down in season two that is beyond the scope of their relationship but Opal and Nola highlight so much within the show by simply being together because Nola begins to realize what her life is like without a demanding male-gaze. The show also hits on themes of racial liberation, the sexualization of Black women, and Black history as well, which makes Nola a strong voice.
Stream seasons one and two of She’s Gotta Have It on Netflix now.