Let me start off by saying that I loved the Netflix series She’s Gotta Have It. I thought it was brilliant, and I highly recommend it. It is classic Spike Lee—everything we want and expect from him in a film on the small screen. From the cinematography to the soundtrack to the acting, everything was good, in my opinion, except for one thing: the way Nola Darling was portrayed as a polyamorous woman.
(Warning: This post contains some spoilers, so if you have not already watched the series on Netflix, you may want to wait and come back to discuss this with us after you do.)
As my sister-in-ink Evette Dionne and I agreed on Twitter, it is painfully obvious that there were no real polyamorous people at that writers’ table, so what we get in Nola is not representative of the complexities and nuances of polyamorous relationships. Rather, she comes across as a selfish, disrespectful person who views her partners as objects for her pleasure and gratification and not as individuals or people who also have needs.
Nola’s selfishness is its own character in the series. It is the main motivation for every action she takes and every decision she makes. The impact that her choices will have on other people is less of a concern for her than what she herself will get in return.
She keeps Jamie because he takes care of her financially; she keeps Mars because he worships her; and it is never made clear what she gets from keeping Greer around, but perhaps that is the point—he is just another man and another body for her to lay claim to in her quest to have sex without limits, no matter who gets hurt.
Her lack of respect for other people’s time, feelings and needs is another issue. Polyamory is based on mutual respect and consideration; it doesn’t work any other way. If you are going to carry on relationships with multiple people—be they sexual, love or otherwise—you have to show respect, care and consideration for them regardless of the level of the relationship.
What we find in Nola is a person who invites men into her “love bed” to satisfy her and please her. We don’t see her giving the same in return. She is polyamorous, but it is clear that her partners are not. Not only does she not take this into consideration, but we never see her have a discussion with them about the fact that she has other lovers. There is no true honesty there. In her world, there is no room for consideration of their feelings.
When Jamie comes over to celebrate her birthday, Nola seems to enjoy the attention he showers on her, but it is not enough to keep her from taking, not one, but two phone calls from Mars while Jamie lies next to her. He is visibly annoyed by this, but as Evette points out, Nola ignores this because she sees their relationship differently than he does. Jamie clearly loves Nola, but Nola loves only the idea that Jamie loves her.
That selfish disregard is present again in the “lily pad” relationship she has with Opal. Opal also clearly loves Nola and wants something deeper with her. Opal even introduces Nola to her daughter, who tells Nola that it must be serious because her mother never introduces her to anyone. But the gravity of that is lost on our flighty, selfish heroine, who makes plans with Opal and her daughter—and ultimately flakes on them.
The final episode of the season gives us our biggest “What the fuck?” moment ever. Nola decides to host a Thanksgiving dinner at her apartment and invites each of the three men she is bedding to join her, without informing any of them that the others will be there. They all show up and are unpleasantly surprised to find that they won’t be dining alone with Nola.
They manage to get through dinner, and when the meal is over, Nola reveals a piece of artwork she has painted that depicts them as a three-headed penis. This is probably the most honest moment she has with them over the entire series.
That painting sums up Nola’s entire attitude toward her three male lovers. They are sexual objects to her. She does not consider their personhood; she considers their penis, and if her artwork is any indication of how she really feels, then they are one continuous penis with no separate or distinct identity. The faces change, but the penis is the same, and the penis is all that matters.
True polyamory is none of these things. It is not selfish. It is not self-centered. It does not disregard the feelings of any one person involved. It doesn’t treat anyone as a lily pad—a soft place to land while waiting to jump on to the next thing.
True polyamory is considerate. It is loving. It makes each person feel important. It is not disrespectful. It does not flaunt one lover in the face of another.
It is honest. It is open. It is mindful of the impact that actions can have on the feelings of others. Even in situations where a relationship is purely sexual, the wholeness of the individual involved is always considered.
As I said at the beginning, I love the new She’s Gotta Have It. I think it is beautiful. I am just not buying into this particular brand of polyamory that Spike Lee is trying to sell.