How poly, really, is "She's Gotta Have It," Spike Lee's "polyamorous, pansexual" Netflix series?
Spike Lee's new series She's Gotta Have It went up on Netflix on Thanksgiving Day, November 23, and the amount of media it's getting is impressive.
It's a reboot of Lee's 1986 movie, but times have changed. "As a sex-positive, polyamorous pansexual," declares centerpiece Nola Darling, "monogamy never even seemed like a remote possibility." The media are quoting that line all over the place.
interview with Lee and DeWanda Wise, who plays Nola:
VICE: You both have spouses and are in monogamous relationships. But the character DeWanda Wise plays is Nola Darling, who is polyamorous.
Spike Lee: I have no idea what the word “polyamory” means. What is it? Polly wants a cracker? What are you talking about? [Laughs.]
DeWanda Wise: I married young, true. Nola's just more transparent about dating multiple people, which is something a lot of people do today. I have friends in committed, polyamorous relationships. It’s more prevalent. I haven’t seen any examples of polyamory in TV or film in 1986 other than She’s Gotta Have It, which is depicted in a real way.
From Wired's review:
To consider anything about She’s Gotta Have It ... first requires one address its final episode. It’s Thanksgiving night and Nola Darling has summoned her three suitors to dinner. Up until this point, they’d yet to cross paths, and only vaguely knew of each other through Nola’s mention of dating other men. All season the show had been building to this juncture, and its occurrence is all the more surprising because it’s Nola who methodically gathers her trio of lovers in one place, the refuge of her Brooklyn apartment.
“What’s the real purpose of inviting all three of us here?” asks Jaime, a sensible and sometimes dull Wall Street business type. Nola’s response, layered and selfish, but not unreasonable, lands like a punch to the gut. She acknowledges having “messed up,” but refuses to linger over past mistakes. Opposed to one man, she instead chooses herself. “What kind of lady,” begins Greer, the most immodest of her lovers— but Nola cuts him off, ironclad and unapologetic, leveraging control: “...Acts like a man?”
The series, much like Lee’s original film was 30 years ago, is a seductive case study in power dynamics, masked as a savvy rom-com. The crux of Nola’s story, the symbolism that is to be mined from her impassioned travails, is really about the redistribution of authority, and the reimagining of female desire as something more entangled, impulsive, and ideologically liberated.
The whole review (Nov. 22).
Commenter Almontas on reddit/r/polyamory sums things up:
I love the show but certainly is not an accurate poly representation. They are all still coming from a monogamy angle and the only reason she sleeps with all of those men is with the condition there's no emotional connection.
I would certainly recommend it and see it as a positive step towards accepting non-monogamy...poly itself may have to wait a little bit.
Tolu Igun at the University of Wisconsin's Badger Herald: (Nov. 29):
...Lee portrays Nola’s relationships as a polyamorous lifestyle, but he needs to think about the negative implications that can have on the already existing polyamorous community. I would not consider Nola’s relationships as polyamory at all and neither should other people who watch this show.
...Polyamory is the practice of, or desire for, intimate relationships with more than one partner, with the knowledge of all partners. This last part of the definition is key because in Nola’s situation, Jamie, Mars and Greer do not meet until the final episode of season one.
...The unawareness of one another for these four lovers cannot equate to polyamory because this would suggest that they are all in the relationship together when really they are all in it for Nola.
Bitch Media: “She's Gotta Have It” Butchers Polyamory and Queerness (Nov. 29).
Sex-positive and feminist the show certainly is. Here's one of three articles in the New York Times in the last week:
Spike Lee’s Feminist Breakthrough
In her studio.
By Salamishah Tilletnov
“As a sex positive, polyamorous, pansexual,” Nola Darling boldly declares in the fourth episode, “words like monogamy have never even seemed like a remote possibility.”
..Billed as a “seriously sexy comedy” in 1986, the movie revolved around Nola’s romantic relationships with three men — the poetic and overly possessive Jamie Overstreet, the narcissistic Greer Childs and the unemployed hip-hop aficionado Mars Blackmon (played by Mr. Lee). A budding artist living in Brooklyn, Nola was, Mr. Lee noted at the time, “a young black woman who’s really leading her life like a man, in control, with three men dangling at her fingertips.” He continued, “That paradox is funny, it’s really crazy.”
In a television landscape in which African-American female characters on shows like BET’s “Being Mary Jane,” HBO’s “Insecure” and ABC’s “Scandal” unabashedly establish their sexual freedom by having multiple male partners — or, in the case of Netflix’s “Master of None” and OWN’s “Queen Sugar,” also have several female ones — Nola’s sexuality no longer feels comedic or unconventional. It feels right at home, just one part of a young, black, female artist’s identity.
The surprising result: Spike Lee has made his most feminist heroine yet.
Critics have long noted Mr. Lee’s “woman problem.” In 2009, during the 20th anniversary of Mr. Lee’s most celebrated film, “Do the Right Thing,” the journalist Teresa Wiltz observed, “When it comes to his female characters, it’s as though Lee can’t decide whether to worship them or punish them.”
...“I’m 30 years older, and the world has changed,” Mr. Lee said. “I think that Nola’s character is such a strong character. She is a woman who is juggling three men, and I think there are more women like that now. But the way those women are judged hasn’t necessarily changed as far as men go.”
...The show does not only expand Nola’s sexual universe, it also pays attention to the ways in which her and other black female characters’ bodies are constantly under surveillance (by white shopkeepers), exploited (at a local burlesque club or on reality TV), threatened (by police officers) and even assaulted (by everyday men on the street). ...
Read the whole article (Nov. 19 print issue). The other two NYT articles: ‘She’s Gotta Have It’ on Netflix Is a Bold Reboot From Spike Lee (Nov. 22 print issue), and a long retrospective feature, The Culture Caught Up With Spike Lee — Now What? (Nov. 21 online; to appear in the Nov. 26 NYT Sunday Magazine).
Another one, introducing the three very different men:
● In Canada's national Globe & Mail: She’s Gotta have It is breezy yet serious-minded on urban life and love (Nov. 21)
...Nola lives her sex life to the fullest, largely with three male boyfriends who compete for her attention, for her admiration and, some of them, for her heart. Each man offers Nola something specific. Each also lacks something that the other offers. Nola is not in the least bothered by the openness of her love life. She is honest and secure in her choices, specifically her issues with monogamous relationships.
The set-up for the series is that Nola has agreed to have her life documented. She talks directly to the camera sometimes, as do other characters. "Folks think they know me," Nola says at the start. "They don't. I consider myself abnormal. But who wants to be like everybody else?"
The resulting series is a heady, often gorgeous, concoction. It is, visually, a love letter to Brooklyn, an area that Lee paints in wistful, melancholy colours. Lee remains one of those directors who take enormous and sensual pleasure in presenting places they love.
There is a lot of sly humour in the series, too. Nola makes plain her impatience at the everyday harassment she gets on the street, from men of all ages, and from women. But even that is done by Lee with a certain air of rueful tribute to the idiocy of men, especially older men.
Nola's three partners also get plenty of time to exhibit their characteristics. The most genuinely engaging and charismatic is Mars Blackmon (Anthony Ramos). He's the character played by Spike Lee himself in the original film, and he represents youth and, in a way, tradition, since he's so attached to his local neighbourhood. There is the preening, conceited Greer (Cleo Anthony), a guy who is fabulously handsome but so aware of it that Nola rolls her eyes before she actually gets down to enjoying his body. The most complex male, in the first few episodes, might be the married businessman Jamie (Canadian Lyriq Bent, who is truly outstanding). And then Nola's occasional girlfriends also get the attention of both Nola and the camera. ...
● Hello Beautiful talks to the star: DeWanda Wise Says ‘She’s Gotta Have It’ Is A Love Letter To Black Women:
DeWanda Wise at right (Johnny Nunez/Getty)
By Starrene Rhett Rocque
...The TV adaptation of Spike Lee’s seminal 1986 film centers around Nola Darling, a polyamorous woman with three boyfriends, who refuses to answer to anyone, especially the men who want to lock her down, about the unusual choices she makes in her love life.
However, with the series reboot comes adapting to the times, and Spike Lee tapped into the #BlackGirlMagic machine to make sure that Nola Darling 2017 resonates with a millennial generation of women who are all about discourse and moving the zeitgeist in a progressive direction.
...“[Nola Darling] really is this icon of being able to just be who you are,” says Eisa Davis, who is part of the predominately black women-led writing team....
● Many, many more.
● Followup: More on Spike Lee's non-poly not-so-feminism.
● This is just one of several black explorations of consensual non-monogamy recently in theaters and/or streaming: 195 Lewis, Compersion, and Poly Love. More on these soon! (Did I miss any?)
P.S. on another topic: It's Thanksgiving in the US but it's National Polyamory Day in Canada, by recent declaration of the Canadian Polyamory Advocacy Association. "On this day in 2011, BC’s Supreme Court ruled that Canada’s so called “anti-polygamy law” does not apply to unformalized polyamorous households — clarifying that polyamory, as it is typically practiced in Canada, is legal and not a criminal act."
Save the date. We're starting to see some movement toward making November 23 Polyamory Day, at least informally, in the US and worldwide.
Steve Ks of the CPAA notes, "There is already an International Solo Polyamory Day observed on September 24. There has also been a “Polyamory Pride Day” promoted for June 11 as part of Pride Week."