What does she gotta Have? – Sexual Modernity
Nola Darling was a symbol of the Black Women’s active role in sexual liberation. Historically Black women were objects of sexual desire for men of all races. Black women never had the opportunity to choose whom they wanted to be with sexually, they were nothing but pawns used for the sexual promiscuities of men. During times of slavery some Black women were forced into breeding houses, where their sexual organs were used only for the reproduction of children, their bodies used as if they were cattle. Some Black women like Venus Hottentot, were captured from their homeland and put into cages, used for circus acts in Europe. (http://www.southafrica.info/cm_pics/citizens/717-0-0-0_153242.jpg)
Sara Baartman nicknamed Venus Hottentot was caged and displayed, slogans to invite spectators ranged ” the freak woman” to “jungle woman.” The European men who captured her put together a performance in which Baartman would come out of the cage as if she was a beast and they would whip her into submission in front of the crowd. Because of her natural curves, large buttocks, lips and elongated liaba she was considered over sexed, and therefore inferior. Since her body did not resemble that of a European woman she was not considered a woman, but just a sexual being, a “thing” used like the lions and elephants in circus acts. Her body was abused and she was consistently raped and through the constant exploitation of her body Sara Baartman died at the age of 25. Even in Baartman’s death she was not able to rest from her sexual abuse because her body was hung on a display to still be observed.
Black women did not choose to be the object of sexual desire; there were no 40 stages of Narcissism prescribed for Black women. Their bodies did not belong to them; they were considered “things”, inferior and passive. As a way of safety from being raped by their master, overseers, men they came in countered with, Black women hid their sexuality. Actively being sexual was dangerous, and Black women took on new roles as Mammy’s, and recreated their bodies as bodies of nurture contrary to objects of sex to protect as a way to protect themselves.
During the time She’s Gotta Have It was released, was also the rise of Hip Hop to mainstream media. Hip Hop spoke so vividly about the Black woman as sexual objects. The terms, “hoe, Freak, slut was often used to describe women in these songs.
Once again Black women were objects of sexual beings, abused by words that demeaned them. Black women were rising from poverty, and out of private sector and into the job force. In order for Black women to have true independence they needed to take back their bodies as objects and reassert themselves and become sexually independent. Black women no longer wanted to hide their bodies as way to protect themselves but the black needed to become actively sexually liberated. They needed to take control over their own bodies and prove their humanity through their sexual liberation. As spike lee does so artistically in She Gotta Have It, he displayed Nola as this beautiful Black woman who was not afraid of her sexuality and her body being on display.
Black women needed to decide who they wanted to be with or not be with. But the danger with sexual liberation as so many Black Women feared is rape and sexual abuse. In the scene where Jamie “rapes” Nola, this traditional belief that the consequence of Black women’s sexual liberation will result in rape comes into the movie.
Nola is raped by a Black man who repeats to her “whose Pussy is this.” Jamie represents the reassertion of Black masculinity and self-hatred. Through Nola’s sexual liberation, and the freeing the Black woman’s body, no longer does the Black man have something he can dominate over since Black women were considered the only people more inferior. In Nola’s “rape” scene, she did not cry out for help, she did not fight, it was if Nola knew the consequences of being too sexual as a Black woman during this time, the discourse was relevant to her life. In order for Nola to overcome sexual oppression as a Black woman she had to overcome this traditionally belief within herself, she needed to see for herself that rape should not be a consequence of sexual liberation. Nola had to realize that the “it” she wanted should come at no expense to her safety. Nola in the end left Jamie and took her control back over her own body and her sexuality. Nola Darling ended with what she wanted and had to have, her sexual modernity and independence.