Updated: May 23
As a millennial, African-American, romance-loving, artsy-fartsy, independent, 20-something professional companion (Whew, that was a lot of qualifiers!), I don't often find myself represented in media. Aspects of my identity make their way to the screen, sure, but they're often depicted as incompatible: One can't be both a sex worker and emotionally available. Or Black and bookish. Or an artist and a savvy entrepreneur. Or comfortable with one's sexuality and choosy when selecting those with whom one engages. Cue, the Netflix revamp of Spike Lee's She's Gotta Have It. Have you seen it? You should.
Both the original film-Spike's first picture, released in 1986-and the revamp center around Nola Darling-a young, attractive Brooklynite painter and digital artist who has three very different suitors. Each gentleman (and on occasion, a very lovely lady) struggles with feeling legitimate, knowing they exist as one of in Nola's orbit. But as a self-professed sex-positive, pansexual, polyamorous individual, Nola unapologetically and ethically demands ownership of her body and mind. She's clear about her needs and limits. And she spends a good deal of her time focused not on her intimate escapades, but her art.
She's Gotta Have It interrupts the assumptions we have about what relationships should look like (and what women are open to!). Society often says that if affection and connection exist between two people, they should make their way up the relationship escalator: Interest to claiming, claiming to commitment, commitment to merged assets, marriage, and often children. Nola rejects this notion entirely and, as a result, manages to experience far more than she might've had she adhered to traditional relational expectations. It's a narrative I can relate to entirely.
By definition, as a companion, I am a non-monogamous individual. I have intimate engagements--in which exclusivity cannot be expected or demanded---that often develop into caring relationships. That's not to say that these relationships aren't meaningful; some of the most exhilarating and profound experiences of my life have occurred in the context of professional companionship! I actually prefer to care for my clients and can happily say that I've grown and been marked indelibly through connecting with them. The feeling is often mutual. But we manage these feelings by respecting the circumstances under which we've met, along with our respective boundaries and expectations. Intimacy is no less real when it has limits; like Nola, I've my own story to paint, and my clients often have their own escalators to ascend! I engage sans judgement. There's beauty in exploring what works for you, even if it's antithetical to the dictates of normalcy. I can confirm: when you figure it out, it's amazing.
Unrelated: As you can probably tell, I'm a Spike Lee Joint devotee. His films are essential to my understanding of New York and are laregely responsible for my obsession with one of the best cities in the world. She's Gotta Have It is simultaneously a love letter to and indictment of Lee's gentrifying Brooklyn, backed by a superb soundtrack! If you're looking for a film to fall into on a cold winter night, any of Spike's are a good place to start.