The latest offering from Spike Lee, Da 5 Bloods, is part Vietnam War history and part Black Lives Matter movement, interspersed with stories about personal dramas and family dynamics. And, with BLM currently in the foreground, this movie couldn’t have been released at a more appropriate time.
Da 5 Bloods opens with file footage from a February 26, 1978 interview with Muhammad Ali, who was famously opposed to the war, explaining his opposition: “My conscience won’t let me shoot my brother, or some darker people, or some poor hungry people in the mud for big powerful America,” he says in part. That interview, followed by pictures and scenes from the unpopular war, is coupled with Marvin Gaye’s anti-war anthem “What’s Going On,” making for a very impactful statement.
Early on, the movie also features an excerpt of Malcolm X’s July 11, 1962 speech in Chicago. He says, “When you take 20 million Black people and make them fight all your wars and pick all your cotton and you never give them any real (recognition), sooner or later their allegiance towards you is going to wear thin.”
Black Panther co-founder Bobby Seale is shown echoing that in one of his speeches when he says, “In the Civil War, 186,000 Black men fought in the military service and we were promised freedom and we didn’t get it … now here we go with the damn Vietnam War and we still ain’t getting nothin’ but racist police brutality, etc.”
And now, more than four decades later, not only are Black Americans still fighting wars in other countries, they’re fighting wars at home, as evidenced by the BLM movement, which shifted into high gear three weeks ago following the death of George Floyd, who died at the hands of a white Minneapolis police officer. With millions of people around the world protesting against police brutality, the messages conveyed in Da 5 Bloods makes this movie especially timely.
Da 5 Bloods are veterans Paul (Delroy Lindo), Otis (Clarke Peters), Eddie (Norm Lewis), Melvin (Isiah Whitlock Jr.) and Stormin’ Norman (Chadwick Boseman), their fallen squad leader. Years after leaving Vietnam, four of the five return to the battle zone to find Norm’s remains along with a stash of gold Norm helped them hide.
Joining them at the 11th hour, after he shows up unexpectedly, is Paul’s son David who’s concerned about his father who has refused to seek treatment for his PTSD. With millions at stake, Paul’s “bloods” aren’t at all thrilled that David will be joining them.
Arguments break out amongst the longtime buddies, first over if and how David will be rewarded once the treasure is discovered. Once they think they have things all figured out, the men set off on their quest, but not only do they each have their own inner demons to deal with, they’re confronted by treacherous terrain, deadly traps, dangerous animals and two other parties, all of whom want the same thing: the millions in gold.
One of the groups consists is three members of LAMB (Love Against Mines and Bombs), which includes two men – Simon and Seppo – as well as a beautiful young Frenchwoman, Hedy (which she flirtatiously tells David, when he introduces himself at a bar, is pronounced like Hedy Lamarr). The other group is a band of Vietnamese soldiers intent on getting what they say belongs to them.
As if that isn’t enough, there’s also a former lover of one of Da Bloods who figures prominently into their plans, as well as her local international exports contact, who’s been brought on board to help them transfer currency from the gold bars into offshore accounts.
Also helping DA Bloods is local tour guide Vinh Tran, who knows nothing of the fortune. He’s focused on showing the men around the area and helping them get to the edge of the brush, where they’ll be searching for Stormin’ Norman’s remains.
The messages conveyed in this movie serve as a reminder of the turbulent past suffered by many Black Americans and how little things have really changed. DA 5 Bloods should be required viewing.
Runtime: 2 hours, 35 minutes. Rated R. Now streaming on Netflix.
Terri Lee Chandler is a member of the Critics Choice Association – the largest film critics association in the U.S. and Canada – African American Film Critics Association and SAG-AFTRA. @TerriLeeChandler