Years ago, a guy DeWanda Wise was dating gave her a DVD of “She’s Gotta Have It,” the debut feature by Spike Lee. The film’s heroine, Nola Darling, a confident young Brooklyn artist who boldly eschews monogamy, the boyfriend said, reminded him of her.
“I saw it in my early 20s, at that pivotal point of development where you’re really figuring out your identity, and what you stand for, and how to stick up for yourself,” recalls Wise, describing the character originated by Tracy Camilla Johns as “one of our very few black female cinematic icons.”
That relationship didn’t last, but the vision of Wise as Nola Darling was prophetic: The actress plays the role in a 10-episode series adaptation of “She’s Gotta Have It,” directed by Lee. Following supporting roles in Fox’s “Shots Fired” and WGN’s “Underground,” the part represents a major breakthrough for Wise, who puts a distinctly millennial spin on a character who was revolutionary in 1986 — and remains so today. Contemporary pop culture is awash in romantically restless young women, but outside a handful of shows like “Insecure” and “Being Mary Jane,” honest, non-sensationalized portrayals of black female sexuality remain a rarity.
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