Film Analysis of She’s Got to Have It


Hoping to continue to the discussion on She’s Got to Have It. Please connect the assigned reading on Black women as the “Other” and the “Social Deviant” to She’s Got To Have It. We, also talked briefly about the concept of the “symbolic whore.” How does that relate to his female protagonist, Nola Darling?  How does Spike Lee frame her as a sexual deviant? What does it mean to be a good girl in Spike Lee’s world? With talk of making She’s Got to Have it into a cable show, along the lines of Girls, could Spike Lee make Nola Darling into the sexually liberated and self affirmed woman he thinks he portrayed her to be? Please review these articles and comment

Why we should worry about a resurrected ‘She’s Gotta Have It’


21 thoughts on “Film Analysis of She’s Got to Have It

  1. In the film “She’s got to have it”, Nola Darling’s character is represented to be very sexual which fits in the stereotype of the Jezebel. She would use her open sexuality and body to get what she wants amongst the group of friends. Which shows how comfortable she is with her self esteem. These characteristics about her labelled her to the “symbolic whore”. She knew that using her sexuality would always work in her favor. Spike Lee makes Nola the center of the attention of three friends which she is also sleeping with each one of them. Since she was sleeping with all three friends, she is the sexual deviant. She is the total opposite of the “Madonna” or a good girl. A good girl according to Spike Lee would be “a white woman from manhattan”. A good girl would not being sleeping with a group of friends. She would be pure, innocent and loving. Nothing like Nola.

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    • Tercy, you made some good observation regarding how Nola is being depicted in She’s Got To Have It. But, Nola is actually more than the stereotypical Jezebel, the oversexed promiscuous woman. She is attempting to use sex to demonstrate her independence as a woman but she is framed as a sexual deviant by the filmmaker (Spike Lee) and by all the men in the film. She is called a freak by Mars and not normal by her own father. As much as she tries to use her sexaulity to empower herself, her power is deminished. How is she not the good girl, its more than just being a “white woman from Manhattan”? And what is it to be a “Symbolic Whore” in Spike Lee’s world??? How does Spike Lee devalue his black female subject on the ground of being hyper sexual? For future postings, please try to find quotes that support your argument.


  2. With relating to the symbolic whore Nola Darling portrays a women of exactly that, she is seen as someone who has sexual desires and fantasies that spike lee was able to portray them in this film. The symbolic whore is someone who represents sexuality as a whole. Nola Darling although she doesn’t feel that she is being promiscuous indeed she is feeling more like she is just being herself when in fact herself is a sexual being. Spike Lee frames her as being a sexual deviant by having her have more then one partner as well as being in love with all three but stays with the only one that raped her and scared her. To be a good girl in spike lees world is be sexual but classy and not to be seen all over with more then one man. With regards to the show I think spike lee should leave her character exactly the way she is because if he alters it then she wouldn’t be the Nola darling that everyone fell in love with.


    • Alexandra, similiar to Tercy, use quotes from the reading to help support your arguments. This blog is to encourage a dialogue beyond the discussion we already had in class. We know that Spike Lee shows Nola as a sexual deviant because she has three lovers but what is the long term effects of this stereotype? What is Spike Lee trying to communicate through Nola? One can say that a woman in Spike Lee’s world can never really be free, especially not sexually and if she attempts she will be raped. As Norma Manatu states, “her reputed sexual passions allows for simulatneous desire and disdain.”

      Also, in regards to the potential Showtime show of SGTHI, if Spike Lee does keep Nola the same as you suggested, would he not be perpetuating the same stereotypes as he did in the film. Should’t Nola’s character get an upgrade some 29yrs later?


  3. Nola definitely is an example of the continuation of portraying black women as “other”. Spike Lee makes her into this hypersexualized jezebel that gets around and has multiple sex partners. Rather than portraying her as only a successful woman, the media has to continue to degrade black women as “other” than flip the script and make things better. The “symbolic whore” relates to Nola because she is the ideal whore that men want. Spike Lee portrays Nola as a sexual deviant by having her, ” loving the crew”, in other words sleeping with every guy she knows. To be a good girl in Spike Lee’s world I would have to say is to be submissive to a man. As though Spike Lee trys to make Nola seem as a liberated woman who could date freely as men do, he placed her into the category of a jezebel. All viewers see is a woman who is sleeping with multiple men and not caring.


    • Theora, a lot of you are framing Nola as a Jezebel but she is more than just being a hyperzexual woman. The Jezebel uses her sexual appetite to manipulate men. Nola’s was sexual because she liked sex and wasn’t monagomous. She didnt really use sex to control men but satisfy her own appetite. She is more of a sexual deviant and/or symbolic whore as you later note. She is, as you state the “ideal whore.” She, like Coffy is “liberated” but not really.


  4. In the film She’s Gotta Have It, Nola Darling is depicted as a bad girl who is sexually aggressive, a freak, not normal and needs to get help. This relates to black women as other in films because once again the role of the Jezebel/whore is being played by a black woman; which is the main role they portray in Hollywood. This relates to black women as the social deviant because in the movie Nola was painted as a lost oversexed woman because she doesn’t want to be in a committed relationship and she had more than one sex partner. The symbolic whore relates to Nora because she is having uncommitted sex with three different men (unchaste), she is only using the guys for sex (she says she isn’t a “one man-woman”) and she experiences no true love in the film. Lee framed her as a sexual deviant because she is shown near her bed surrounded by candles (in a sex mood manner) frequently in the film and is also shown naked a lot in the film. To be a good girl in Spike Lee’s world is to be a woman like Clorinda, (Nola’s friend/ex-roommate) who is a nice lady (the character Greer tells Nola “nice ladies don’t go around sleeping with different men”). Lee makes it clear in the film that all men want freaks but they don’t want them as wives. And a good girl is also seen as a white woman. In the film after Nola breaks up with Greer, he said I should have got me a white woman instead of messing with you. He was insinuating that white women was a step up or the ultimate prize in life or compared to Nola.

    Spike Lee can make her into a sexually liberated and self-affirmed for the cable show. But the problem lies with how the Nola may not be completely seen as sexually liberated unless a man is there to put her in her place (Brown, The Washington Post). Nola was supposed to be in power of her sexuality but in the film there is a scene where one of her partners, Jamie rapes her because he wanted to tame her into a monogamous commitment, and also treat her like a whore since she was acting like a whore. Brown, the author of the article Why we should worry about a resurrected ‘She’s Gotta Have It’, feels that Spike Lee is a misogynist who needs more women writers/directors on board for the show so Nola’s agency will not be undermined again like it was in the film. The author feels that if Nola is supposed to be this free-spirited, independent, sexually assertive woman then why was she being degraded and treated like less of a woman and raped? That scene sends a message that you can be a sexually liberated (black) women all you want but you will be punished for not behaving like your stereotypical gender role requires you to. Also in the rape scene, Jamie was sick of Nola having sexual power/control over him and wanted to take it back. Jamie is seen as the violently aggressive black man, and Nola is a submissive and defeated black woman (Diamond, She’s Gotta Have It: A Rejection of Female Sexual Power). And Lee has admitted himself he regrets putting that rape scene in the movie. Therefore, She Gotta Have It: The Series has potential to be great if Nola’s sexuality isn’t undermined by misogyny.


    • Jasmine you made some good points. Although, when Manatu talks about the ‘Black woman as the other,’ she is looking at all the stereotypes that exclude black women from the mainstream and being true women. As we talked about in class, Spike Lee makes it very clear that he sees Clorinda as the good girl and Nola and Opal as the bad girls. Nola and Opal are sexual deviants, two side of the same coin. I’m starting to think Spike Lee might also be putting white women in the catergory of the good girl although I dont think this was his intention. Not sure! I think, he realizes he made some serious missteps with his first film which I dont think he can correct with a cable series unless he has some strong women writers. In regards to the series. I think he should not pursue the cabel series because it will only bring up comparisons to the film and highlight the issues he has with his female characters.


  5. In the film “She’s Gotta Have it,” the role of Nola Darling is played by Tracy Camilla Johns who does a phenomenal job at acting in this particular role. Nola Darling is a black woman, beautiful, a freak, does whatever she has to do to get what she wants, and would be considered by society as the “other.” “The other” is someone who is not accepted by society, outcast, deviant, and someone who is not normal. In the film, Nola Darling is not considered to be a “woman” rather she is portrayed as an animal. A “normal woman” is considered to be monogamous, innocent, Caucasian, and romantic but Nola Darling is none of the above. Nola Darling seeks romance and love, choose to have more than one partner and tells the men of each other. I believe she is portrayed as a witch and a whore. Nola Darling is portrayed as a witch in the film by having the sexual power, and the magical power. For example, in the film every time Nola was having sex with these men, there were candles surrounding the couple as they were having sex as if her body is magical and the bed was a sanctuary.
    Nola Darling was not only the “other” but she was a “social deviant.” A social deviant is one who is going against the norms of what society considers to be norm. Nola Darling breaks the “fourth wall” by speaking directly into the camera and not woman like. Nola Darling was going against what society believe how women are portrayed but rather she was portraying how “black women” were like and how “black woman” should be portrayed.
    I am unclear of what a symbolic whore is and therefore I am unable to comment and make the connection towards the film. A good girl in Spike Lee’s world is the woman who was Nola’s roommate, I believe her name was Clorinda. She was the only good girl who was not involved in any trouble and did not display any attributes of what an “other” was.


    • Juan, great job in connecting the reading and comments from the class to the film. Some quotes would have been great! Agreed, Nola is not considered a woman, she is viewed as an animal. As we all do, she seeks romance and love but also seeks sex and is punished for it. She is portrayed as not being normal and a freak. At first, I was going to disagree with you regarding your description of Nola as a witch but her sexuality does have magical powers over the men in her life. In terms of labeling her as a symbolic whore, Manatu describes it as “part of the devaluation process of the black woman’s feminity as inferior.” I do disagree that she does whatever she has to do get what she want. She doesnt go out of her way to get these men. They are attracted to her because she is a beautiful and attreactive woman and very honest to a fault as they all say. She doesnt try to hide or is dishonest about having other lovers but is still punished unlike a man in the same position. Therefore, I think this would qualify Nola as a symbolic whore, despite how feminine she is, she is never feminine enough by film’s and society’s standards.


  6. In the movie, “Shes Gotta Have it,” the main character Nola is a single working woman living alone and dating three men at once, and they all are aware of that. The fact that she is dating these three men at the same time suggest that she is a whore. Nola is considered as the “other” or a “social deviant,” because she is not seen as feminine. Nola is economically independent which means she is not dependent on her partners. In addition her sexuality is considered excessive to the men in the film, that they label her as a freak. One of her partners suggest that she needed help since it was considered abnormal. Nola is also considered less feminine due to her sexuality because to be feminine would mean that she not have multiple partners. Nola would not be considered a good girl because of her sexual behavior, in fact in the movie Spike Lee’s character “Mars” mentions that Nola would not be the woman that he would take home to his mother. Although Nola seems to be a socially deviant in the movie it may be possible to have Nola as a self liberated and self affirmed woman in this generation where gender stereotypes are not as rigid as previous generations. However in order to do so it may be better to be filmed more with the woman’s perspective in mind. The reason perspective is a big deal is because there is a thin line between what some may label as a whore or self liberated person.


    • Sierra, you are correct when you state Nola is considered the “other” and “social/sexual deviant, ” but why? Also, why is she not considered feminine, how does Spike Lee frame her that makes you think that? You made great points about how Nola is portrayed as economically independent and self affirmed but Spike Lee is making a point about women who attempt to be liberated and independent. You also stated that the film would be better if it was presented from the women’s perspective but I think that is the point of this discussion and the class. Male filmmakers both black and white, continue to perpetuate these stereotypes and falsehoods about women. So, if Spike or another man gets to do the remake on cable would you watch/support it???


  7. The first few scenes of the film establish that Nola Darling will explain her dating habits and her relationships with the three main men: Mars, Greer, and Jamie. However, through the course of the film, the story centers less on Nola’s feelings and more on everyone else’s opinions, specifically those of her partners, on her dating habits. Instead of describing Nola’s reasoning behind her actions, the bulk of dialogue in the film expresses how unusual Nola and her desires are. Even Nola begins to succumb to societal attitudes by practicing celibacy as a relief to the built-up tension surrounding her dating life. Reinforced by the oppositional presence of Clorinda, Nola’s monogamous ex-roommate who disagrees with Nola’s ‘lifestyle’, Nola appears to be sexually deviant in Spike Lee’s world.

    If Spike Lee revives She’s Got to Have It as a show, Black female writers should be sought to provide nuance to the script. Behind the failure of the original film’s plot is the notion that a heterosexual Black man, who is writing from a patriarchal paradigm, could successfully portray an informed story on a heterosexual Black woman’s experience.


    • Hey Ariel, you made several good points. We are lead to believe we are getting Nola’s persepective and that she is this liberated woman but in the end her voice gets reduced and limited. Most importantly, her independence and sexual liberation proves to be a liability to her. I would have liked to hear you talk a little bit about how Nola is portrayed as the “other” and “symbolic whore.” Her build up as the bad girl and role as the symbolic whore almost justifies her rape, at least in the mind of Jamie and the filmmaker.

      So far, there hasnt been any movement on SGTHI, but if it does become a cable series there has to be serious consideration for women writers, black women in particular. Otherwise, it just gives Spike Lee room to perpetuate the same stereotypes and caricatures of women he did in the original film.


  8. Nora, right away- from the very beginning of the film- is portrayed as socially deviant. As has been mentioned she’s labeled a freak, abnormal and other very demeaning terms. She’s also not able to challenge these labels. This is intersectional because white women, based on the idea of white privilege, might have the opportunity to object to or confront being labeled. Black women are not given that chance. The fact that she is indifferent enough towards social norms to openly date 3 men factors into all the labeling and bad stereotyping that happens in this movie. Although she seems to be this “liberated” woman there is some irony to this because she seems to lose everything in her love life at the end. It’s almost as if she’s somehow paying for her deviance and the message she’s getting reminds her (and the audience) of her social positioning. These loses also come with a heavy toll on her reputation


    • I agree Monica, Nola has definitely paid for her sexual liberation. Again, there needs to be more reference to the reading and the articles that were linked to the post. You made a good connection to the idea of white privilege especially as it relates to white women. Manatu talks a great deal about it and would have made your argument stronger. Also, the points she makes about the good girl (white women) and bad girls (black women) would have been great to add as well.


  9. Nola Darling, of the film “She’s Gotta Have It”, is a black woman that enjoys painting, lives on her own, enjoys having sex, and would be considered by society as the “other”. The “other” is someone who is not accepted by society because they are seen as someone who is not considered normal, an outcast, and as a deviant. In the book, Manatu says, “Based on polar opposites, this world-view is evidenced in our routine “right-wrong, good-bad, black-white” mental processing (Hayakawa et al., 1990, p. 12; Lorde, 1984, p. 114). Having aligned white women to ideas of delicacy and sexual purity, the application of “otherness” assigned to black women was well on its way to becoming complete: the white female form would come to represent universally the “feminine” as well as the cultural standardized ideal of beauty; black women’s bodies, on the other hand, would come to be viewed as symbols of sexual excess, unattractiveness, and immorality-as the deviant sexual “other.”” (pg. 19). In the film, Nola is not seen as a woman because she is viewed as an animal. Although Nola searches for love and romance, she also looks for sex where she gets punished for because people think different of her and because she ends up having a hard time choosing between the three men she is with. A normal woman is someone that is considered to being white, pure, innocent, and romantic but for Nola none of these characteristics relate to her. In many ways, I would say that Nola can be portrayed as a witch too. The reason for this is because her sexuality can take control over the men in her life as if they were some type of sexual powers. The reason why I say magical powers is because the three men in her life all know about each other but yet choose to stay by her side. Also, I believe that these men stay by her side because of her way of being personally. She’s a very beautiful/attractive woman that happens to be very honest and open about her relationships with these men and these are definitely traits to consider Nola as a “symbolic whore”.


  10. Nola Darling was thought to be a sexually liberated female. Her friends (both male and female) and her family describe her as odd, noting something was different about her. “Men are described as rational, adventurous and aggressive..”(Mantu, pg 52) Characteristics used to also describe Nola. Nola is what’s described as a “sexual aggressor” or sexually liberated which one often takes as feminism. Nola as well as the other support cast are undeveloped characters. We meet Nola in the beginning of the film in her bedroom and we end in the same room. We never once see a work office and only once does she have a meaningful interaction with a female friend. The only clues we have to learning Nola are her interactions with her male “friends”.
    Nola is sexually deviant because the other characters surrounding her labeled her as deviant. “…Societal directive still expects appropriate sexual behaviors from women…”(Mandu, pg 55) woman are supposed to be feminine. feminine means to be sexually repressed. A Madonna, a woman of innocence. Spike Lee attempt to portray a liberated woman falls short and allows her to be subjected to date rape. Adding further insult, he underplays the rape scene and allows room for the question “was it really rape?” Simply adding to the notion women who don’t conform to the social norm are subject to acts of violence.
    She’s Gotta Have It the television show would lack the same depth the movie did. Because black women in film and television have yet to advance as more then sexual beings, the television show would only be a setback. It would be yet another show where a black woman’s main plot is based solely on the status of her relationship.


    • Hey Kendra, This is section is from a previous class but I appreciate you posting. To address your comments, you made some interesting and important points that I dont think anyone else has. Particularly, that Nola doesn’t have any meaningful relationships with women. Opal is portrayed to some degree as a sexual deviant or aggressor herself. You are made to think that her feeling for Nola are not sincere and linked to her sexual desire for her. Her old roommate, is basically that just a roommate who doesnt experience in any real concern or worry that her friend was basically raped. Neither of these women experience any real emotions or concern also making them lacking as much femininity as Nola. Another great comment and quote connects to Nola as the social/sexual deviant. As you noted, not only is she being labeled as a deviant by pretty much everyone she encounters but her behavior linked her to the social deviant. She lacks femininity, sexual repression and innocence and therefore subject to be punished for living outside of the norms of not just a black woman but any woman. Good job!



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