"I always said in season one that the ‘IT’ in 'She’s Gotta Have It' was much more full and multifaceted, I think, from the film version, and this season two is emblematic of what that entails." - DeWanda Wise
The last time fans left Nola Darling, the headstrong, polyamorous artist from Brooklyn at the center of Spike Lee’s She’s Gotta Have It series for Netflix, she was going through a bit of an upheaval. After spending most of season one juggling four lovers, she invited three of them to a Thanksgiving dinner to meet for the first time. It was a bold, yet head-scratching, move that ended in her revealing a nude portrait of them all called “The Three-Headed Monster.”
While Wise makes no judgments about Nola’s choice (the name of the episode), she does admit the men wouldn’t have shown up if they knew ahead of time.
“You got two full-on New York dudes, one whose ego is above and beyond, so no contest,” she says of her lovers Mars Blackmon (Anthony Ramos) Greer Childs (Cleo Anthony) and Jamie Overstreet (Lyric Bent). “For whatever reason she decides to do so and that was the only way she felt that could happen.”
However, Wise does admit that it was one of her favorite scenes from the season.
“It was so fun to shoot because we filmed the first episode together, then shot 2-9, then that episode separately. So up until then I’d been spending time separately with all my cast mates; It’d be Nola and Mars, Nola and Greer, Nola and Jamie. So, it was mischievous fun for me to watch them all in a room together for the first time because some of that male ego was real. Most of Ramos’ dialogue in that scene was improvised. My reactions were completely in earnest. Anthony was improvising in character because he was the most petite guy, so what would he use? He would use words. Jamie’s character would use money, it was so fun to shoot.”
By the end of dinner and the season, Nola’s connection to her men is tenuous at best, (despite a weed-induced Prince dance off and a group nap) and she declares that the “world has made me the man of my dreams,” quoting MeShelle N’Degeocello. Her other revolving door relationship with single mother Opal (lfenesh Hadera) appears to be on the mend, but with Nola nothing is guaranteed.
In the time since that season, Wise took on another role in Netflix’s Someone Great playing a lesbian named Erin Kennedy, who is a tad commitment phobic as well. But DeWanda insists that she doesn’t intentionally seek out queer characters to play.
“I just think that I respond to characters that I think are fully fleshed out and actual human beings,” she says. “So, the sexuality of the two characters just happens to be simpatico, to be completely honest with you. And I also think that art inspires art. For the folks over at Netflix, or Jenn Kate Robinson, to see me play Nola, I’m sure it informed certain casting choices and it’s up to me to decide, ‘Ok, what new thing do I have to say? Do I think these characters diverge enough for this to make sense?’ And that’s really what it was. To me Nola and Erin are so different, so I saw no concern or issue with playing another woman with a different sexual identity. To identify as bisexual or polyamorous and to identify as lesbian are two completely different things.”
Where season one was saddled with maintaining connections to its 30-year-old source material, Spike Lee’s sexually risqué black-and-white exploration of a woman with multiple lovers, season two is allowed to bleed to the edge in new directions. Not only are viewers brought deeper into Nola’s life as an artist, we see where the married Overstreet is with his divorce, and how Mars is coping with unemployment and de facto homelessness. While there's still plenty of titillating sex and eye candy, that is far from the focus.
“I think she has been grappling with maturation,” wise says of Nola. “We do get to see what it would be like for a woman that we experience as free and liberal as Nola in season one to earnestly try monogamy.”
Nola is also contending with career success, as she is being courted by corporate interests looking to license her work for advertising campaigns.
“That intersection of art and commerce, the intersections of art and activism, it was definitely one of the elements of the show that was happening in tandem with my own thinking and own consideration as an actor. So, I welcomed the shift. I always said in season one that the ‘IT’ in She’s Gotta Have It was much more full and multifaceted, I think, from the film version, and this season two is emblematic of what that entails.”
Season two also benefits from exploring the celestial bodies in Nola’s orbit, her real and extended family. The women in her life, like her mother, Septima (Joie Lee), and her best friend, Shemekka (Chyna Layne), are experiencing personal flowering in their respective lives.
“I loved it,” Wise says of the attention given to Nola’s inner-circle. “All of my woman co-stars I’ve known of or known literally for quite some time. We went through season one and Joie was just filling in for an actress they were going to cast for Nola’s mom, and I remember seeing myself in Joie. It was a such a clear casting choice to me. We took a lot of care being specific about the nuances and intricacies of each one. I loved little things like season one, Rachel, who is Nola’s white friend and neighbor, that started as a joke. It started as an anecdote, the white girl in African dance class who can out-dance YOU, and Spike just kept having her back. We have white friends now. Our circles are super diverse, also in class. I kind of devour the representation of that. To have a Shamekka and a Clorinda in the same story. To have a Raqueletta Moss and Dr. Jamison surrounded by other women, who like herself offer an alternative way of being.”
Season two also continues the world building of an extended Spike Lee multiverse. In season one, Tracy Camilla Johns, the original Nola Darling, made a surprise cameo in the series and in Spike’s 2012 film, Red Hook Summer. While we won’t spoil the specifics, DeWanda did enjoy one special appearance that she wasn’t even aware of until she watched the show.
“I don’t think that was on the schedule either and all of a sudden I’m watching the show and I’m like, ‘What?' It’s like a Spike Lee multiverse. He lives for those moments. He loves when you’re shooting a classic Spike dolly shot. If there is a special guest on set there will be champagne. It was really remarkable and to your point, working with [redacted], I don’t get star struck easily but it was a very special day that required very little acting on my part.”
Fans will get to share in that moment and more in the new season of She’s Gotta Have It on Netflix, premiering May 24.
Photo Credit: Netflix