Part I: Who Says She’s Gotta Have It?
The answers to this question varied as we discussed this question in groups. Some argued the ‘it’ is simply independence, others, that the ‘it’ is attention. Firstly, I think it is crucial to contextualize the statement; “she’s gotta have it.”
Though this film has been acclaimed for being revolutionary in that it represents a black female narrative, I would argue that this is a story told by men. As it has been pointed out in the blogs, Nola’s character is in fact quite underdeveloped, and she lacks the filmic authority to claim her own identity. At the center of this argument is the title of the film. The claim that “she’s gotta have it,” is a claim made by one of the three men in her life. Further, though Mars Blackmon obviously likes Nola, he usually speaks about her negatively. It’s important not to implicate Nola in this statement; she never claims this about herself, she never agrees to this claim, and ultimately, she doesn’t even know it has been said about her. This needs to be distinguished before parsing out what the ‘it’ in that statement actually means. I believe there is an inevitable difference between what the ‘It’ means according to Mars and (if Nola were to agree) according to Nola. The variations in answers within group discussions can be attributed to this unmade distinction. Nola would most likely define the ‘it’ in a statement about herself, as control, sexual autonomy, or perhaps the same independence that the men in her community had. In fact, she confirms this in the film when she says, “It’s really about control, my body, my mind. Who was going to own it? Them? Or me? I’m not a one-man woman. Bottom line.” However, in Mars’ statement, the ‘it’ almost certainly means something different. Perhaps Mars is referring to the act of sex, or perhaps he is referring to control, but in a negative light. Lee claims that his intention for the film was to “portray a radical new image of black sexuality.” (Gender Violence: Interdiscplinary Perspectives, 202) Essentially, this a story told by men. Despite the protagonist being a black female, (which does holds significance) this is a story told about a woman by men. By cutting to documentary-style vignettes of man in her life, they are granted the authority to introduce the audience to her. They often talk about her negatively, because they feel as if she is mistreating them. Her college friend, Clorinda, and Opal, her lesbian acquaintance, are the only two female peers of Nola’s in the film. They serve as “forgotten friend” and “predatory queer” respectively; delegitimizing them as characters to the audience. Each of Nola’s sexual partners is offered a platform for talking about her, as well as her father. The women in the film are not offered this platform. Further, Nola gets to represent herself the same amount that the men do, implying their opinions of her stand as just as valid as her own conceptions of herself.
Part II: No Place Like Home
The color scene that appears halfway through the film supports the notion that this is in fact, contrary to media commentary, a man’s story. This scene is preceded by an interview with Nola’s father, in which he plays a song he wrote for Nola on the piano. He speaks (contrary to Blackmon’s speculation about Nola’s “daddy issues,”) to the stability of Nola’s childhood and her parents’ encouragement to pursue the things she loves. There is then a cut to Nola and Jamie in Nola’s apartment. Jamie is going to surprise her for her birthday, and covers her eyes from behind. He tells her to repeat the phrase, “no place like home,” a line from The Wizard of Oz; an obvious reference to the shift from black and white to color in the 1939 film, starring Judy Garland. [The homage is striking, and provoked finding other similarities. Perhaps, The Wizard Of Oz is linked to this film as a whole, as opposed to just this scene. (Things to think about….but i digress.)
Breaking down this scene serves as evidence for this film in fact being a man’s story, and further defining the ‘it’ as a word assigned meaning by the men in the film. The scene opens with a downward pan of a phallic structure in the middle of a park. As the scene is in color, the perspective becomes a point of clarity. As the birthday gift is from Jamie, in a world created by Jamie, with the male reinforcement of the phallic structure, this performance becomes an extension of Jamie. The lyrics to the score of this scene tell the story of a man and a woman, while the dancers perform a parallel choreography. The dancers and song tell the story of two lovers who seem to represent Jamie and Nola. The dance begins with romance and smiles, however, at 35:24, the audience is offered the film’s first solid allusion to violence. The woman playfully “walks over” the man, teasing him. He then runs to follow her, and she dodges him. He then grabs a glass of water and throws it in her face. We see the girl not only emotionally upset, but here, physically damaged by the man’s anger. As reaffirmed by Jamie’s later interviews in the film, he feels as though Nola is emotionally manipulating him, his feelings being toyed with, as she remains involved with other men…despite the fact that Nola has fully disclosed her intentions to be with multiple men. In the end of the scene, the woman accepts a flower from the man. Nola and Jamie, who have just witnessed the performance in this color world, are presented with a cake from the dancers. Nola tries to blow out the candles, which turn out to be trick candles that wont extinguish. This then cuts immediately to a black and white shot of the real candles that surround Nola’s bed; the site of her actual sex life and romantic world. This juxtaposition positions the viewer to return to the “real” world, in which conflict isn’t handled through dance but through real action that really causes damage. This scene perpetuates destructive conceptions of rape, in that women are accomplices in their own violation. This is clearly from the perspective of Jamie, her partner and rapist, to present a gift that represents a palatable portrayal of rape.
Part III: ‘IT’ Is Irrelevant
The rape scene that occurs at the end of this film is ultimately a regressive artistic statement from Lee. I believe that the film’s title/Blackmon’s description of Nola is intertwined with this scene in very significant ways. As the film ended, I couldn’t help but think of this film’s title as a threat. Nola was punished in the end of the film for attempting to sexually liberate herself. In retrospectively examining this film, the statement “she’s gotta have it” implies more than Blackmon’s casual interview—-‘this is what happens when one’s ‘gotta have it’.’’ I argue that it doesn’t matter what ‘it’ is. Whether it is Nola’s self-definition of ‘it’ being control over her own body and choices, or Mars’ definition of ‘it’ as (presumably) sex, she shouldn’t be punished for it. She should live her life as she chooses, with her own desires. As African-American feminist Bell Hooks examines, this movie “reinforces and perpetuates the old norms overall” (Hooks, 1989, 141.)