The Unicorn Scale: She’s Gotta Have It


Photo: David Lee/Netflix

Well hey there, readers! Hope this New Year is treating you well and getting you off to a good start. I’ve been working on my goals (so much less stigma than “resolutions”) and watching a whole buncha bi media. And first on my list this year is Spike Lee’s Netflix reboot of his breakthrough film, She’s Gotta Have It.

SGHI focuses on the life and loves of Nola Darling, a poly pansexual painter in Brooklyn who is juggling three male squeezes without vowing commitment to any of them, and how that effects her life and art.

CAUTION: Sorry, but none of my New Year’s resolutions were “Don’t use spoilers in your Unicorn Scale articles.” So from here on out, there will be plot details necessary for my review. (Oh, what’s this scale, you ask? Here’s a quickie review.)

What I Liked:

As Nola would probably say, this series is fire. The show comes at a perfect time for a fiery, feminist take on the modern world, including street harassment clapbacks, better acceptance towards non-monogamous relationship models, and what it means to be a queer woman of color in today’s America. It’s bright, full of color and cultural references, funny and not shy about approaching touchy subjects. It’s a thoroughly Spike Lee joint while still being approachable to folx who may be new to his flavor of storytelling. And Nola herself is clever and talented, but also rounded out enough as a character to be impulsive but learn from her mistakes. She’s entirely watchable as she navigates a world of her making.

And that world includes at one point a female lover, Opal. I’m a big fan of seeing women (especially queer women of color) interacting with and enjoying each other on screen in a way not entirely designed for the male gaze. That happens multiple times on SGHI – both within and beyond Nola’s “loving bed.” Despite the through-line of Nola’s interactions with her three male lovers, the Bechdel test is smashed to pieces throughout the series.

I love that while the world may need to catch up to the idea of pansexuality, Nola embraces it and does not flinch when her attractions are challenged.  Though it doesn’t work out for Nola and Opal, this doesn’t feel like a one-off attraction, given Nola’s rhapsodizing about the female form in a monologue from a previous episode. So her sexuality feels organic but not played up for a fetish.

What I Didn’t Like:

Come on, Opal. It’s 2018 (2016 when this story took place.) Your biphobia with the tired terms of “try-sexual” and “bi-curious” are so worn out. Luckily Nola never questions her sexuality because of these slurs, but rather the relationship falls apart because of her commitment models (and lack of responsibility).

It’s also sad to see a few older models of gender dynamics at play within the show.  Nola defines men as people with penises, which she seems enlightened enough to not make that correlation. I also wish that there had been some blatant moments of protection being used in the lovemaking scenes. All four of the main characters know that Nola is having sex with multiple partners, so it seems reckless to not use them (or have that conversation). That may have flown in the mid-Eighties with the original film since the AIDS scare at the time was mostly with just gay men, but let’s be responsible in updated depictions.

The Rating:

All that said, my quibbles don’t detract much from my score. Not only is there an out-and-proud pan woman, but we see a well-written episode about her same-sex encounters, and the whole show is just a lot of dynamic fun to watch.

Now to resolve if I can find a way to get that kickass headstand for my own “loving bed” without the fear of fire hazards or unintentional wax play.

Jennie Roberson
Jennie Roberson is a comedic actress and screenwriter currently living in Los Angeles. She just finished her first novel (a bi coming-of-age tale, naturally) and hopes to share it with the world soon. When she's not busy binging on Star Trek or dreaming of her future cat army, you can find her occasional thoughts between mountains of re-tweets at her Twitter handle, @JennieRoberson.