She’s Gotta Have It is a film that revolves around Nola’s sexual relationship with three men, Mar, Greer, and Jamie. However, a lesser examined aspect of the film are the female roles and interactions.
The first female character we are introduced to other than Nola is Clorinda, her former room mate and estranged friend. In her short scene she explains that Nola’s many male partners was the main reason they are no longer room mates. In the small bit of Clorinda we see, she seems shy, even sweet. You can tell that her falling out with Nola was bigger than she lets on but she seems to not want to bad mouth Nola more than her story already does. The physical features of Joie Lee also makes Clorinda more sympathetic, with her small frame and larger eyes, Clorinda looks almost childlike. The story itself as well as Clorinda’s personality does not create a very positive impression of Nola. Nola seems mean, almost like a bully, forcing Clorinda out by her own stubborn actions.
There are two ways to understand their point of there disagreement, Nola’s sexual partners. Clorinda says that she could not deal with the various, strange men that Nola had in the apartment. On the one hand, there is the issue of privacy in one’s living space. Clorinda’s objections seem completely valid, in that she does not feel comfortable having many strangers around her place. It is especially uncomfortable knowing they are sleeping over and have access to Clorinda’s room. This could have been an issue with a male room mate as well but with a female, it has an extra sense of importance. This is a part of what it means to be a woman in the world. Women always have to be cognizant of the men in their space and the potential violence that is always a possibility. There is also the issue of female sexuality. Maybe, it was not the safety/comfortability issue that got to Clorinda but her judgement of Nola for having so many sexual partners. Societal views of “proper” female sexuality does not include multiple parters in quick succession. So even if it was less explicit, Clorinda may have been judging Nola’s actions as something not right, in much the same way as Nola’s three partners.
This scenes seems support that stereotype of women fighting over men. While Clorinda and Nola are not fighting for the same man, there relationship falls apart because of men. Some have said that the “it” Nola is seeking is attention so perhaps the attention she sought in her male suitors was worth the attention of her friend.
Opal is the most prominent female character other than Nola, and she seems to occupy this in between as a female/male role. In the two scenes Nola is in with Opal, she comes to her for support, first when sick and then after breaking up with Jamie, and both times Opal seems tries to escalate the relationship into something sexual. There is this interesting dichotomy between how Opal is depicted when she comes on to Nola and the way men are depicted when they come onto women. The movie states how silly men seem with their come-ons to women.While in a different context, Opal is already friends with Nola as compared to strangers initiating contact with a woman, Opal seems almost sly in the way she is seen coming on to Nola. Not so much in what she says but in her physical interactions with Nola. In her body movements,the titling of her head, the side glances and widening of her eyes, Opals seems almost snake like. It seems like Opal is sneakily coming on to Nola. While there are suggestions and innuendo in their conversations, I believe Opal is no less open with her desire to have a sexual relationship with Nola than the other men in the movie.While she is a friend to Nola, Opal seems to only think about this position as a stepping stone to becoming Nola’s lover. But this is no different from Mars, Greer and especially Jamie in thinking their sexual relationships are steeping stones to a monogamous one. And while they are depicted as sincere (Jamie), funny (Mars), or just plain silly (montage of men saying pick-up line), Opal seems to be characterized as someone not be trusted, with the biggest difference between Opal and the rest of the men being her gender.
The ways that Opal occupies a male role is seen in the sick scene that starts around 19.29.
As soon as Opal asks who’s at the door, Jamie answers, almost angrily, asking who she is. They seem to move around each other defensively with Jamie taking Opal’s place at Nola’s bed and then her place in the kitchen. She sits at the table comfortably, saying she likes taking care of Nola almost as if to say she’s not leaving just because of him. When Jamie speaks to Nola, it’s in hushed tones as if he is protecting his interaction from Opal. Finally, he is not the least bit subtle in telling Opal that her presence is no longer wanted or needed. On the one hand, Jamie’s actions show that he sees Opal as a threat to his sexual relationship Nola. One the other hand, he treats her more aggressively than the other male suiters. Despite the men’s disagreements and complaints at the Thanksgiving dinner, Jamie does not go as far as essentially kicking them out of Nola’s apartment, even through Opal, like them, are Nola’s invited guests. This suggests that he views himself as having some additional power over Opal.
Another female character of the movie is Dr. Jamison, a psychiatrist she sees at the suggestion of her male lovers. Dr. Jamison supports Nola’s initial statement, even if she seems to believe it littler herself, that she is not sex-crazed but has a normal sexual appetite. She seemed to want to continue her sessions with Nola not because of her sexual habits but about her feelings in thinking her sexual actions were abnormal in the first place.
Finally, the last of the important female characters of the film are the three girlfriends in Nola’s dream. First, they are entirely imagined as there is no indication that Nola is the mistress to any these men. The dream seems to indicated that Nola sees herself as doing wrong, with casting herself as the mistress, even with her confident assertions that she is simply enjoying her sexuality. This idea is furthered supported by the way the women choose to kill Nola, by burning her to death. Not only is it very violent, but there is this association of burning with sin; people burning in the fires of hell or convicts or religious dissenters being burned at the stake.
Analyzing the role these women had in the film and their relationship to Nola is one way to answer what the “it” in “She’s Gotta Have It” Many have said that what Nola wants is attention, but I think closely related to that, and what these relationships show is that she wants understanding. Her relationship with Clorinda ends when she shows no understanding (acceptance?) of Nola’s life style. Opal, like Nola, is willing to have open dialogue about sex. They are both experiencing sex as women, it might be the type of relationship she would like to have with Clorinda but can’t because in some way Opal understands Nola. Dr. Jamison offers the clearest association with understanding as Nola’s visits are way for her to further understand why she acts the way she does, especially if they are related to some abnormality which they are not. Finally, the girlfriends in the dream seem to highlight an understanding of herself that Nola does not want to admit to, as someone who is wrong for having the many sexual partners that she does.