The Millennial Nola Darling: Is Spike Lee Ready?

Curator's Note

Spike Lee’s overall contribution to film has been his ability to make his viewers carefully examine their blind spots when it comes to social and racial issues. However, his body of work has revealed the Brooklyn director’s own blind spot: women. Lee has been criticized for how women have been portrayed in his films and his lack of awareness regarding the contribution of women to the film industry.

Now, thirty years after the iconic debut of “She’s Gotta Have It,” the Netflix release of a series based on the movie has provided a new opportunity for Lee to present a millennial version of his leading character Nola Darling — as an empowered woman in comparison to the Nola Darling of the 1980s. 

The series debuted amid the reckoning of the Harvey Weinstein scandal and the ongoing debate about women and sex in American society. The new Nola is introduced in the series as a “sex-positive polyamorous pansexual” who suffers in silence after a sexual assault. She channels her rage by going through her Brooklyn neighborhood anonymously posting artistic images of women speaking out against sexual harassment and assault. She uses men and sex as a coping mechanism to deal with her emotional pain, which thwarts her artistic expression and success. A key scene shows Nola so focused on the presence of the men at her art show that she fails to articulate her creative vision to an art critic. Once Nola realizes men and sex distract her from her career and personal development, she finds new ways to cope with her pain. The other female characters also play important roles in Nola’s journey and help her see how her art and personal development thrive when she learns to depend on herself. 

Lee presents a female character who is a reflection of the current discussion about sexual assault and women in society. Eisa Davis, one of four female writers on this project, said the series revisits those themes while also representing the “nexus of all the ways in which we are trying to establish what it means to be a self-determined woman.”  Overall, Lee acknowledged his lack of awareness on how to properly present women on screen while remaining true to his artistic vision of highlighting the “very nature of black American identity, and its inseparability from American identity as a whole.”

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