Warning: Spoilers ahead for She's Gotta Have It season 1.
While watching She’s Gotta Have It, I assumed the moment waitress-turned-dancer Shemekka Epps (Chyna Layne) suffers an embarrassing, near-deadly bad butt injection twist would be the most shocking scene of the Spike Lee-helmed Netflix series. Then, the finale came. While watching season 1 closer, “#NolasChoice,” I had to pause the action multiple times to process the unflinchingly awkward energy filling each and every moment of Nola Darling’s Thanksgiving feast. Why? Because Miss Nola (the fabulous DeWanda Wise) invites her three “lovers” to the exact same dinner and forces them to act like this is a totally average way to spend the big holiday. Despite the fact the dinner gave me physical anxiety, “#NolasChoice,” is also the most empowering, joyful episode of the entire season.
Although the men — fun Mars Blackmon (Anthony Ramos), stimulating Greer Childs (Greer Childs), and mature Jamie Overstreet (Lyriq Bent) — try to make Thanksgiving about themselves, in reality, the event couldn’t have less to do with them. Rather, it’s about Nola exploring what makes her happy and whom she wants to spend her time with. If one of these men chooses to judge her on her preferences, he can kick rocks.
That’s why it’s so satisfying to hear the answer to Greer’s sexist screech during dinner, “What kind of a lady?” Nola cuts the well-cheekboned photographer off before he can finish, looking at each man present and saying, “...Acts like a man?” That’s the root of all three of these suitors' problems. Nola is treating them all the way stereotypically commitment-averse men treat the women who are interested in them, and she’s not apologizing for it. When Nola refuses to break under the pressure of Greer’s desire for her to behave like a “lady,” he and all the other guys are forced to support her if they want to stay at the table. So, they all do. “Tasty,” says Jamie of the homemade pie he’s eating; “Sweet,” adds Greer; “Taste the vanilla, know what I mean?” finishes Mars.
Throughout She’s Gotta Have It, Nola feels the Rashomon Effect from the men in her orbit. Although she’s a singular woman with a singular personality, all three see her in wildly different ways, as the movie-turned-psychological theory describes. This splintering is so detrimental, it ruins her art debut in episode 6, “HeGotItAllMixedUp,” as the title so purposefully suggests. While the episode is all about Nola’s artistic success, somehow, still, the installment comes down to that titular “He.” All of this male nonsense is so awful, Nola’s therapist Dr. Jamison (Grammy-nominee Heather Headley) refers to the trio as a three-headed monster.
That little throwaway line is what leads us to the most cringe worthy, yet laudable, portion of the Darling Thanksgiving, as artist Nola flips the Rashomon dilemma on her suitors. She takes Dr. Jamison’s advice literally and draws the men as a literal, nude three-headed monster, full-frontal penises and all. Because, you know, head? Now, they’re forced to deal with how Nola’s gaze processes them in ways they never asked for or intended. The reactions vary between “Is this how you think of us?” asked in its highest register to “What the fuck?” Gentleman, welcome to your own Rashomon nightmare, complete with implied commentary on what you're working with, so to say. “Objectification is a bitch, right?” Nola asks.
I told you this is an awkward Thanksgiving.
Despite just how uncomfortable this holiday is, the final act is meant to give Nola the joy she’s clearly looking for here. In a nod to remind us just how terrible 2016 — the year in which She’s Gotta Have It takes place — was in terms of celebrity deaths, Nola throws her “Turkey fiasco,” as Greer calls it, in memory of the late, extremely great Prince. Once the food has been scarfed down, the truth-telling marijuana has been smoked, and the revealing art has been unleashed, it’s time for a full-on dance sequence to 1985’s “Raspberry Beret,” finger cymbals and all. The extensive choreography is symbolism for the kind of life Nola could lead if her guys weren’t so obsessed with possessing her and comparing themselves to each other. Sometimes they dance with her, sometimes they dance alone, and sometimes she dances alone. No one owns anyone during the exuberant scene and it is lovely.
When you look back at the 1986 version movie version of Lee’s She’s Gotta Have It, there is a Thanksgiving scene between the original versions of these four characters, who wrap the holiday piled into Nola’s loving bed. A similar scene carries over to Netflix’s updated version. However, in 1986, there’s no three-headed painting, no “Objectification’s a bitch” from Nola, and definitely no “Raspberry Berry” group dances. It seems these additions, like many in the series, three decades later, were specifically created to give Nola more agency over her own romantic future.
That necessary new theme is why Nola ends season 1 without Jamie, Greer, or Mars in her loving bed. Rather, it’s Opal Gilstrap (Ilfenesh Hadera) — whose role was upgraded from a 1980s lesbian stereotype to a modern real, live love interest — in Nola’s hallway. It’s unclear whether the pair will fall into bed, and it doesn’t really matter. What matters is the fact Opal doesn’t see Nola through a funhouse set of mirrors. Rather, these are two women who recognize how their own self-perception colors their infatuated views of each other. And, they’re ready to move on from there.
As a generally conflict-avoidant person, I would never want to experience such an eventful and awkward Thanksgiving. But, boy, am I thankful Nola did it.
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