Nola Darling wasn't willing to be called a freak in 1986, and she's still not down with the label in 2017.
Although 31 years have passed since Spike Lee directed his first feature, She's Gotta Have It, the themes of sexual freedom and gentrification still ring true in his adaptation of the film as a Netflix comedy series (now streaming).
The updated Nola is played by DeWanda Wise, and her reinvented lovers are a modern-day motley crew. Nola is juggling Jamie Overstreet (Lyriq Bent), the married businessman; Greer Childs (Cleo Anthony), the self-proclaimed "bi-racial Adonis" photographer/model; Mars Blackmon (Anthony Ramos), the jokester; and Opal Gilstrap (Ilfenesh Hadera), a horticulturalist single mom.
Wise says the "polyamorous pansexual" Nola is just as significant today, as early episodes delve into Nola's mental state after a sexual harassment incident.
"Anyone who’s been like, 'Why now? What makes this relevant? It was done 30 years ago, aren’t we further?' Unfortunately we’re not," she says.
"There’s actually more opportunities for people to police and have an opinion and attack and feel like for whatever reason they have domain over our very personal lives and bodies and choices, and that’s crazy," Wise says. "What’s invigorating about this moment is that we are all speaking up."
The reinvented series fleshes out Nola as a modern character, and it gives her lovers the full backstories they were denied in the film.
"A lot of people still don’t remember it was only 86 minutes," Lee says. "This version is 10 half-hour episodes, so it gave us a lot more room with resources to explore Nola Darling – who she is (as) a young struggling artist in the now gentrified neighborhood of Fort Greene in Brooklyn and also the world she lives in."
Fresh off a career-making performance in Broadway's hit musical Hamilton, Ramos got the chance to reimagine Mars, played by Lee in the film and resurfaced in Nike Air Jordan commercials.
"It’s just awesome watching him work and being a student; you really feel like you’re in school," Ramos says of the director. "And Spike was dope. He lets you shine, he lets you do your thing."
Lee, who saw Ramos in Hamilton, says "Mars Blackmon was the most difficult character" to cast, "along with Nola Darling, because Mars is a global, iconic figure, and it’s a lot to go with the role."
Ramos dubs his black Puerto Rican iteration of the character as "Mars 2.0."
"There are so many people who live that life, that biracial reality that is not highlighted and talked about on television," Ramos says. "It’s either you’re one thing or another."
Lee plays with those dual identities throughout the series, with the gentrification of Fort Greene and Nola's tensions between her lovers and her art.
As is true of any of Lee's projects, he does not shy away from storylines focused on racial issues and sex, but this series seems distinctly more feminist.
Wise credits writers with creating a "fuller" and more flawed version of Nola that was "intrinsically more female.
"We see this woman fight to maintain her free and beautiful sense of self despite all of this opposition to becoming the woman that she wants to be," she says.