Spike Lee appears to use a slow shutter speed to capture his latest iteration of Nola Darling in the Netflix series She’s Gotta Have It. Slow due to the blurring of the Nola past and present through music played, historical icons displayed as well as the reinforcement of how race and racism continues to impact people of color in this country, specifically in gentrified Brooklyn, NY. All of this is in line with what Harris and Moffitt (2009) coined the “Spiked Lens,” an “unflinchingly racialized, macho, and liberatory style of filmmaking that centers African American lifestyles and life choices” often not seen in mainstream films (p. 304). It is a lens where Black women were often marginalized, isolated, and/or punished. Yet, with his newest exploration into the psyche and sexuality of Nola, Lee has seemingly moved beyond the framing used previously to restrict Black women’s expression. She’s Gotta to Have It is about women and their courage to place themselves and their needs first. It is about women’s friendships and their support of each other. Sure, men are still in focus, but they are not primary. This is more about Nola’s voice as much as it is about her vagina. Rather than a woman acting like a man, Nola is a woman who seeks to serve herself (un)selfishly.
Are there familiar tropes? Certainly. Nola again is assaulted--this time in the street as punishment for her audacity to exist freely and not give a damn. The men in her life still believe they can provide her with a better way to exist-if only she would choose one of them. And, again she gives several soliloquies about wanting to be a strong, independent Black woman. Nevertheless, this 21st century Nola courageously explores her options. When it comes to her choice, she chooses self until the “Spiked Lens” couches that choice to also include a potential female lover.
There is hope that the series will continue to evolve past Lee’s expected depictions of women, and allow Nola to become a woman seldom seen on screen. A woman we know exists because many of us, women of African descent, are seeking to live in new ways - racism and patriarchy be damned. More of us are choosing ourselves, and the lives we deserve. Now let Nola join us. Click.