Matt Parks, Campus Carrier graphics editor
As the year of 2020 comes to a close, no film has encapsulated the whirlwind of a year we’ve had better than Spike Lee’s “Da 5 Bloods.” After the passing of the great Chadwick Boseman, who plays Commander “Stormin” Norman in the film, and the fall of the Trump Administration, “Da 5 Bloods” could easily be seen as prophetic, despite the film’s retrospective look at the Vietnam War.
The film follows four Black Vietnam veterans as they return to Vietnam in the modern day to retrieve their fallen comrade and a hidden stash of gold bars that they buried during their service and hope to reclaim. What comes off as a typical adventure plotline serves as a revisionist look at Vietnam war classics like “Apocalypse Now,” “Rambo” and “Full Metal Jacket” through the lens of the overlooked warriors of Vietnam, the African American soldiers.
The film follows the veterans on their current journey, but frequently cuts back to their time in Vietnam. It’s in the flashbacks that Lee made some brilliant stylistic choices. These scenes are shot in 16mm and the four veterans play their younger selves alongside an already young-looking Boseman. For one, the choice was made because, as Lee puts it, “there was no way in hell I was going to get the budget that Martin Scorsese got for ‘The Irishman.’” He speaks in reference to Scorsese’s use of groundbreaking de-aging technology in his latest Netflix film. Instead of Boseman acting alongside a separate group of actors, we see Boseman frozen in celluloid alongside his now aged squad mates.
With the still raw loss of Boseman, this choice becomes even more poignant. Within the film, Boseman plays Commander “Stormin” Norman, a man who fought in the war not only in service of the United States, but in the name of the civil rights movement of the 60’s. “He was our Malcolm and our Martin,” says Otis, the moral center of the squadron. Looking at it after Boseman’s passing, you can see the desperation in his eyes. Like Norman, Boseman stood for so much more than his acting career. Boseman was an activist. Norman doesn’t just represent the Black men who lost their lives in Vietnam, fighting for a cause that didn’t fight for them. Norman represents every Black man and child who will never grow grey because of their deaths in the hands of a country that never gave them an opportunity to live.
Delroy Lindo plays Paul, a PTSD-ridden veteran whose bitterness for his treatment in the war has led him to wear a MAGA hat and support a president that the rest of his squadron are disgusted by. It’s no secret that Lee isn’t a supporter of Donald Trump, but as ham fisted as some may portray Lee, his ability to sensitively analyze an argument from multiple perspectives is rivaled by few other filmmakers. Despite initial hesitation to portray a character that stood against so much of what he believed in, Lindo’s performance is unmatched by any other actor this year. Anything less than a Best Actor win at the Academy Awards for Lindo would be criminal.
With an oeuvre including “Do the Right Thing,” “Malcolm X” and “BlackKklansman,” Lee is the most important filmmaker to the civil rights movement today and “Da 5 Bloods” will not only push you to tears, but also push you to reevaluate what makes a fight for freedom liberating.