“She’s Gotta Have It” starts out with protagonist Nola Darling proclaiming that she needs to clear her name. Yet, throughout the movie the audience still hears more from her suitors and other secondary characters than from Nola herself. What Nola wants and what Greer, Mars and Jamie perceive as what she wants end up being quite different. Listening only to the men’s descriptions and opinions of Nola paints her as very one-dimensional and shallow, “obsessed with sex” as Greer puts it (00:45:54). Underneath it all, however, Nola values her independence, and autonomy even in the face of interpersonal relationships going sour. To her, ‘it’ is the freedom to have sex with whomever she chooses, without attachment or obligations. This desire for sexual freedom originates not solely from Nola’s love of the act of sex, but from her love of intimacy without barriers or ‘normal’ boundaries that traditional relationships present.
According to the second-person accounts that play such a prominent role in defining Nola’s character to the viewer, it seems as though all she wants is sex. Nola repeatedly claims she does not believe in labels. Her insistent rejection of the role of a ‘traditional’ woman with traditional relationships results in her “friendships” with Greer, Jamie and Mars. Greer, as one of her love interests, displays the difference between the roles of sex versus love in their relationship. From his very introduction he comes off as callous and superficial, boasting that he was “the best thing that ever happened to Nola Darling” (00:22:53).
Here, Greer simultaneously objectifies her by writing her off as a “typical Brooklyn tackhead” before meeting him (00:23:12) and takes ownership of her by ‘molding’ her into a more sophisticated woman. It never seems as if the two see each other because of any kind of friendship: Greer is infatuated with her, but not for her personality or any real character traits. Nola too seems indifferent towards him. Greer repeatedly tries to typecast her, finally landing at the term “sex addict”. Somehow out of all of the shallow proclamations he tells her this one sticks and causes her to go and see a therapist. Nola’s reaction to Greer’s assertion shows that she may not be as immune to labels and labelling as she would have others believe.
Nola’s lack of affect plays a role in the viewers’, as well as her suitors’ perceptions of what shes ‘gotta have’. To be frank, just about everything sounded trivial coming out of her mouth: by the end the view still knew nothing of real consequence about her personality outside of her sex life. I’m not sure either whether it was a failure on the actress’s part to portray Nola with more range of emotion, or even variety in her voice or primarily a conscious decision by Lee. As such, her irreverent persona makes her seem full of confidence: however once challenged, like Greer did as explained above, or later Jamie via his assault, cracks emerge.
While Nola does in fact visit a therapist after Greer’s accusation that she is a sex addict, she only meets with her twice. She cites that her regaining her self-confidence led her to realize that longer needs her services. “She’s Gotta Have It” marks the journey of Nola towards acceptance that she is simply “not a one woman man”, and that attempts to conform to the ‘traditional woman’ Greer or Jamie try to mold her into. That’s not to say another man will not come along that tempts her to change her whimsical and free-spirited attitude towards sex and sexual relationships, as Lee does not include nearly as definite an ending to the movie to prove that, but Nola seemed to abandon the attitude at the beginning of the movie of “proving herself” as not a slut or whore.