Nola Darling and The Symbolic Whore

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Welcome to our second posting. Feel free to add quotes from other resources (please credit your source).  I want you to talk about how Spike Lee set’s up Nola to be a romantic heroine and sexually liberated woman and how and if that changes in the film. Please incorporate the readings specifically on Black women as the “ Sexual Other” and the “Social Deviant” to your response. Feel free to refer to scenes from the film as well  in your comments/arguments. Also briefly talk about the concept of the “symbolic whore” as it related to our main character, Nola Darling. Please review the article below on the female leads of two of Spike Lee’s films, She’s Got To Have It and Jungle Fever.

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Female Agency within the Societies of She’s Gotta Have It and Jungle Fever

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12 thoughts on “Nola Darling and The Symbolic Whore

  1. After watching Spike lee “She Gotta have it” Nola darling character was suppose to be a woman of agency. Spike lee approach was to show a woman who was successful in her career and was uncontrolled of her sex life. Even with Spike lee trying to be positive of the new African American women, still show negative views on the black women sex and love life. Nola Darling as symbolic whore, she was in a relationship with three males, she was often underhand seem confused in what she what, and by her male companies she was label as a freak. Although Nola can’t quite fit in begin a Jezebel, because she not using her sexual powers to lure her lovers and use sex as a come up. Nola character was free sprit women, who enjoy male company. Spike lee try’s to show Nola as a liberated woman who’s self affirmed, but he didn’t leave out the male dominance in the film. Throughout the film we got the males point of view of Nola. Nola will speak her and there but not really so of her feeling of her three lovers. Will Nola ever fit in begin a good girl? Well she said it herself, “I will never be a one man woman”. This from viewers will label her as the bad girl/ whore. Spike lee even unknowing show viewers how women who are sexually liberated and self affirmed can be punish. Nola with her male tendencies she was remind she still a women, when she tries to be a good girl for Jamie and confess her love. His words, “You don’t want to be love, you want to be fuck”. This only show’s that a woman who is liberated and self affirmed would never be love or be respected. If spike lee was to bring the film back up into a series for ShowTime, he will first need to know the African American women of today. He should leave out the male ego and show Nola living her young wild a free self. Maybe Nola can find love and she may also loose love. Nola I believe should be connected as Carrie from sex and the city. Even though black women in cinema argues that it’s not possible for black women, to be portray as such because we weren’t never seen as women to begin with. I think lee should provide a show that proves this theory wrong.

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    • Ebony you made some excellent points in you assessment. I agree with you in regards to how Spike Lee sets up Nola as this fiercely independent woman who is not able to manage her sex life. You describe Nola as a “symbolic whore” but didn’t relate the concept to the reading. An example, Manatu states in chapter 3, the symbolic whore “is a tidy way of advancing the devaulation proces, black women’s inferiority emphasized the film one up one-down positioning.” (pg. 76) You stated that we really don’t get to her Nola’s voice but those of the men in her life. That’s not true. From the first scene of her on the bed to the last scene on the bed, she expresses how everyone sees her and how she feels about it. Thats one of the major conflicts in the film. Because she is so truthful, independent and sexually liberated she is punished which you accurately noted. Incorporating quotes helps me to see that you are able to connect the readings to the film. As I stated, you made a lot of great comments but using quotes from the reading helps deepen your points. Its important process to analyzing the film.

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  2. In Spike Lee’s She’s Gotta Have It the character Nola is constructed as both a “symbolic whore” and a “social deviant” in the film. Because of mass media’s constant debasement of black womanhood, all of these negative attributes are generalized to be believed that it is the essence of black women to be loud, transgressors and un-feminine. This notion of black women being “un-feminine” goes back to what Manatu discusses as the “culture’s two-valued orientation” (p. 83) where she breaks down the U.S.’s culture’s structural composition of where the U.S. is divided into both a gender and racial system. The racial system is then subdivided further into a four-tier gender system of where the following: white men, white women, black men and lastly black women derive. This four-tier system is not only meant to assert the patriarchal power, but to also assert the “either-or” worldview that can only support one dominant in any social sphere. So in relation to femininity and the fact that white women are lauded as the standard for femininity which means that black women cannot as only one group can be the dominant. Also as Manatu quotes Sneed, who “argues that in film, the dominant ‘I’ needs the ‘coded other’ (p. 84) showing that black women are needed to be the visible “other” in order for this view of white women being the dominant group to be reinforced. So in the film, although Nola was the main character who was also a black women and at face would represent a carefree “lover of love” and “feminist” of her time she was a “symbolic whore” because no matter how carefree she behaved with her sexuality the negative stereotypes that seemed of “essence” to black women would always surface. Also, in the film when Greer would constantly tell Nola that she is lucky that she is ‘so fine’ as if it is rare for black women to be fine which reaffirms “the denigration of black womanhood” (p. 84) in that we only view the white women as all the attributes that surround femininity including beauty and black women the opposite. So for Greer to say this it reminds us the viewers of the cultural worldview of black women as the bottom of the totem pole and her essence as the “symbolic whore.”
    Nola in the film is also a “social deviant” for many reasons in that she is an independent woman who works and lives on her own. She is in control of her sexual agency and exercises this by dating several men and also does not apologize for dating these men. The fact that she does not choose any one man to settle down with is amazing and would make her a “social deviant” because generally speaking women are supposed to desire stability especially in their personal life and want to get married and have children. However, Nola does not “essentially” want this, yet feels pressured throughout the film to convert into this mindset of wanting this stability. Yet her own nature fights back from making these concrete decisions and she remains, at face, a “social deviant.”
    How Spike Lee sets Nola up to be this sexually liberated women is by first beginning the scene in bed then taking us through her various sexual endeavors that are all, that should be noted, occur in her home where she has agency over the men. However, throughout the film and going through these internal and external battles from beginning to internalize the stereotypes these men were labeling her as showing that she may not have been as sexually liberated as she intended on. I feel that Spike Lee purposefully made Nola go through these conflicts to reinforce the idea that women may not be “fit” to act as men do because it goes against their nature and that women who behave as Nola did will end up in her position.

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    • Excellent, excellent, excellent! A purposeful and thoughtful analysis of the film while incorporating the readings. I especially appreciate your comments on Nola as the social deviant. The concept of Nola being a social deviant is an underlining theme throughout the film. As you so accurately stated, there is an “internal and external battle” in the creation and depiction of Nola Darling. On the surface, she is independent, intelligent, career oriented and sexually liberated but internally she is conflicted, emotional and as Liv suggested “weak.” I don’t know if Spike Lee purposely made Nola this way. I think Spike is a victim of the same conditioning and beliefs that we all are told about black woman. As Manatu states, “the cultural belief is that black women are essentially transgressors, sexual deviation becomes expected of them. This process is further accentuated by cinematic narratives that evoke cultural meaning to black female sexuality.” As oppose to challenging them, Spike Lee presents the same images/stereoypes that mainstream media offers. As Manatu theorizes towards the end of the book, black women don’t fare much better under black male filmmakers as they do with white filmmakers. The question is how do we move out of these constant and consistent stereotypes to present black women as fully realized individuals and escape the monolithic sterotypes that have always perpetrated mainstream media.

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  3. In the film She’s Got to have it the main character Nola Darling, is look upon as the “Symbolic Whore “throughout the whole film. The reason is why because she’s comfortable with her sexuality and have many sexual partners who she doesn’t catch feelings for as much. Her way about life goes to show you that she’s an independent women and don’t need nothing but sex from these men and she will still go on her about her life. The roles are reversed and even though her sexual partners called her names such as “ freak “ and “ sick “ they have true feelings for her. What guys would be so upset over a “whore “if they didn’t have true feelings for her. Spike Lee the film director showed a different side of a women instead of your typical housewife. He showed a women who had polygamous relationships and viewers weren’t used to see a women in that way. In the film to me she has the most respect for Jamie but even at the end she said she can’t see herself as a “ One man women “ and needed a break from all her lovers and sex. To me that showed true courage even after she was being “rape “by him. This social deviant act is one the no female has ever shown in film and Spike lee too it there. She wasn’t know dummy though and her being compared to a jezebel because of her hyper-sexual characters showed that she was the boss and it’s her way or nobody way.

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    • David, I feel like you are not doing the reading because of your comments. You didn’t really define what a symbolic whore is or a sexual deviant as it relates to the chapters that were assigned and then connect them to the film. As an example in ch. 3, Manatu states, “given that cultural belief is that black women are transgressors, sexual deviation becomes expected of them.” To clarify, even though Spike Lee has created this “independent woman and has polygamous relationships” as you noted, as a black woman she is still considered a sexual deviant, a jezebel, a woman who deserves to be punished for being sexually liberated.

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  4. Nola is seen as a sexual deviant. Norma Manatu talks about this in Chapter 3 of her book and how black woman are seen as these over sexualized objects that don’t experience love. A line in her book says “Black women are primarily depicted as sexual predators, on the ready to pick up and seduce men. Constructed as initiators of sexual encounters, theirs is a representation of female characters who are actively sexual, aggressively sexual, and on the quest for sexual adventure. She also talks about how black female are seen as always separating love and sex and are not given the opportunity to really ever fall in love.
    Spike Lee initially introduces Nola as this very independent woman. She has her own life and career and she takes care of and lives by herself. In the beginning of the film she seems like this very liberated woman who is in touch with her sexuality and seems to know what she wants. Nola is extremely sexually active and has a relationship with these three different men that she recognizes as just her friends. A lot of people probably would look at Nola as a slut and a whore for having so many partners and for being so sexually liberated, so she could be given this label of the “symbolic whore”. I think Spike Lee is trying to portray her as this woman that doesn’t need a man in the sense that she doesn’t need a husband or boyfriend to take care of her, but there are moments that she comes off very vulnerable and needy. On more than one occasion she calls Jamie and tells him that she needs him, and she is even willing to give up her relationship with Mars and Greer so that she doesn’t loose him. This makes her seem weak, like she really does need this relationship in order to survive, or that she has to give up these other men to have Jamie in her life and be able to continue having sex with him; which is not what she really wants. She soon discovers that she just does not want to have one man, but ends up having to lose all three of her men in order to get to that point.

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    • Liv, excellent quote and use of the reading. I would have loved to see you incorporate more of it. You, as well as dont see Nola as emotionally connected to the men in her life and she is, Jamie more so than the other two. And that’s what puts her on the border of the jezebel/symbolic whore despite her emotional needs and desire for love she is still labeled a freak and not normal. On page 72, Manatu states “the meaning of black female subjects on screen is this settled by resurrecting the old cultural symbol of the oversexed black jezebel….” When you described Nola as “weak” for wanting and needing Jamie it comes as a form of punishment for trying to be independent and self sufficient. In essence as the jezebel, she lacks feminitiy and moral virtue all qualities to validate memebership in the cult of true womanhood. Her weakness, as you noted, resurects her as a romantic heroine no longer a sexually liberated woman but one dependent on a man for love and protection.

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  5. Nola Darling is seen as sexual other and sexual deviant and Spike Lee’s movie “She’s Gotta Have It”. Nola Darling is not a one-man woman. She is reluctant to settle because she is not comfortable with the idea of being a housewife and being with one person and because of this she is seen as deviant and other. According to Manatu, “In turn society came to expect black women to depart from cultural norms of female modesty and virtue.” (P.17) This portrayal of being a jezebel, hyper sexual, in turn leaves Nola as an “other” and also as a symbolic whore. Nola doesn’t have one man but she has three at the same time. She’s also had several other men according to her roommate. She is also seen as deviant because she is not following the norms that a woman should follow. Women are supposed to be with one man, get married and have children. Nola is doing and wants the complete opposite.
    In the beginning of the film Spike Lee portrays Nola as a sexual liberated women who does who and what she pleases. She is an independent woman with a job and a place of her own. Nola does not see herself as a whore because she is simply expressing her needs and is very open about it. Towards the end of the movie she tries to be celibate but soon realizes that she cannot. This depicts Nola has not sexually liberated but actually needy of men in her life. Nola comes off as this strong woman who does not need a man for anything because that is not the case. We see this when she calls Jaime over saying it is an emergency and she needs him and also in the end when she breaks her celibacy.

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    • Very good Stephanie! I like that you are not only connecting the readings/quotes to the film but also to how these stereotypical images tend to constantly frame women of color, especially black women! I agree when you state that Nola doesnt see herself as a whore. She is expressing her self and because she is open sexually she is labeled as a freak and a whore. Even her own father states she’s not normal. Because she is not allowed to be emotional and sexual, she is forced to make decisions about who she should be with forcing her into what Manatu states “the cult of true womanhood.”

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  6. In Spike Lee’s She’s Gotta Have It we are introduced to Nola Darling’s character in the most promiscuous way possible. We are introduced to her waking up in her bed, in my opinion and in various other symbolic standings the bedroom itself is seen as a sanctuary or a sensual place, that fact that this is where we first meet our lead character stands strong and proud in my mind. It later addresses that a lot to what Nola’s character is and how sexually liberated she is. She outright dating three different men and very much tells them that she is dating other people and that she does not want nor does she need to be tied down to only one person. While our social norms and their constant push and pull on her character tell her otherwise Nola’s character is a well-rounded character who knows exactly what she wants in her life. Throughout the movie we see her in various lights and through others re-accounts of who she is and what she is worth in their eyes. Mainly seeing her as a symbolic whore character who is only used for pleasurable purposes as well as someone you wouldn’t necessarily take home to mom. But this is changed when she is pushed to pick one of the men in her life and is forced literally to change her life for these men. In the end I was more than happy when she said that her and Jamie did not stay together and that she much rather prefers to be on her own for a while to redefine herself. I do not see her as a Jezebel character but rather an inspiration as to what a woman should look into when trying to figure herself out. I am not say to do exactly what Nola Darling did, but rather to not judge who she is because she knows what she wants sexually. She proved early on that she is smart, creative, as well as well put together for herself and she did this without the help of a man (not counting possible assistance from her father).

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  7. Some really good points especially in regards to viewing her as symbolic whore. She also has elements of the superwoman as well, she is fiercely independent, smart (as you noted) creative and resourceful. I would have liked to see you use some of the reading to support your argument.

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