Meet the modern day Nola Darling on Netflix’s “She’s Gotta Have It”

A chat with DeWanda Wise, who stars in the series adaptation of Spike Lee’s classic.
DeWanda Wise stars as Nola Darling in Netflix's series adaptation of Spike Lee's "She's Gotta Have It," premiering Thanksgiving Day. Photo: Netflix

The new Nola Darling has bigger things to worry about than appeasing her suitors. 

 

In the Netflix modernization of Spike Lee’s “She’s Gotta Have It,” a ten-part series directed by Lee, the year is 2016. Our girl still juggles dates with Greer, Mars and Jamie — basically a hotation, as Issa Rae dubs her rotating cast of hookups on “Insecure”  — but she’s also a talented artist, striving to make it and make her rent. (She can barely afford her Fort Greene one bedroom, even though she pays an old-school rate because her godmother owns the building.)

 

“We brought her career to the forefront, which was very important because it calls into question what the ‘it’ is in ‘She’s Gotta Have It,’” says newcomer DeWanda Wise (“Shots Fired,” “Underground”), who stars as Nola. 

 

The new telling also gives Nola close female friendships, which she takes more seriously than her paramours. And while 1986 Nola was definitely a feminist, today she engages with the issues head-on, whether it’s calling out the misogynistic attitudes of her lovers, or, post sexual assault, launching a street art campaign akin to the real-life “Stop Telling Women to Smile” series by Brooklyn artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh (the artwork attributed to Nola in the show is in fact Fazlalizadeh’s). 

 

Ahead of the series' Thanksgiving day premiere, we spoke with Wise about dating Nola Darling-style, how the show tackles female body image issues and why she won’t list her age on her IMDB profile. 

Are the new Greer, Mars and Jamie more woke than their original versions? In episode 3, when Nola wears a sexy black dress on dates with each of them, they all basically slut shame her. 

[Laughs] There’s nothing worse than an asshole parading around as a nice guy. You can think you’re a super open person, but yeah, how do you handle a situation like that? Being out in public and feeling like [Nola’s] not representing the class you want her to on some respectability politics, or that you can’t protect her, or because she looks sexy to you, that’s what she wants at that moment. 

We’re definitely exploring making these men that you wouldn’t immediately be like, “Why are you with them, they’re assholes?” but also toeing that line of “Some things have changed, but a lot has remained the same” when it comes to how men feel ownership of women.

Do you have a favorite?

I personally do not have a favorite and I do not think Nola does either! [Laughs]

You're married, but when you were single, what was your experience dating and how does it compare to Nola’s?

I’ve dated a lot. I remember being like, “This is my carpenter, this is my photographer.” It was never like, “Oh, this is the full human being." I called it “recreational dating.”

It’s not bad, but it was bad the way I was doing it. I think to presume that you can enter unencumbered in and out of people’s lives is not realistic. When I was dating, I was definitely a heartbreaker. What I love about Nola and what I think is different about her approach is that she’s trying to be transparent and open about it, which is really hard. Because then you have to have conversations which you may or may not feel like having. 

Let’s talk about Nola’s friend Shemekka [Chyna Layne] and her experience getting, for lack of a better descriptor, back alley butt implants.

There is this undercurrent of these super seedy procedures that we haven’t talked about a lot. I’ve seen a Nightline special maybe once. Or that show “Botched” has had examples of this. 

When we’re living in a culture where we have this new hourglass, hyper-feminized body aesthetic which has emerged in the last ten years — I’m not naming names! — it’s really toxic because most people don’t have the access to get those procedures done in a way that’s safe. For Shemekka, she’s a dancer, she’s a stripper. It impacts her work. We’re bombarded with these images on a daily basis that say, “This is what it means to be a woman.” Those are the images kids are seeing. Whether or not [celebrities] believe they should be role models, that’s what it is. They’re following you on Instagram. 

You don’t have your age listed on your IMDB page. Is that intentional? 

Oh yeah. Last year, I did three shows. The first project I worked on, Shameeka [in "Shots Fired"] was 34. The second, Clara [in "Underground"] is 20. Nola turns 27. So, I like to keep my options as wide and open and not in a box as humanly possible. I’m gonna play a 60-year-old next, it’s gonna be great. [Laughs]

 
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