“We Bloods won’t let nobody use our rage against us. We control our rage.” Norman, DA 5 BLOODS
I was 15-years-old when director Spike Lee’s “Do The Right Thing” came out in the summer of ’89. It was the first film I’d ever watched in theaters that provoked feelings of anger and rage. I was incensed when the fictional character Radio Raheem, played marvelously by the late, great actor Bill Nunn, was murdered in a chokehold by a police officer, in front of dozens of witnesses. Not only because of the horrific act itself, but because it paralleled what so many African-Americans in this country knew to be true – we can be killed for the smallest infraction, or nothing at all, by a police officer who would most likely never have to answer for his or her actions. The heartache of knowing and experiencing such a truth is a daily stressor that the American Black has lived with for all of our experience in this country.
Fast forward thirty-one years, and Lee is presenting a new film on Netflix, “Da 5 Bloods,” that couldn’t be more timely in the wake of the 2020 murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Perry Floyd Jr. – with the latter sparking global protests, and talk of administrative overhauls, against American police brutality and white privilege that my 15-year-old self would be, and my 46 year-old-self is, astonished to witness.
Highlighting the participation of, and inequalities faced during and after by, Black Americans in Vietnam, the film focuses on four veterans- Paul (Delroy Lindo), Otis (Clarke Peters) Eddie (Norm Lewis) and Melvin (Isiah Whitlock, Jr.) – who return to the country to find and bury the remains of their late squad leader Norman (Chadwick Boseman) and recover a treasure hidden decades prior to split equally. Their plan gets interrupted by a fifth wheel, Paul’s son David (Jonathan Majors), and a host of characters that may or may not be as supportive with assisting as they seem.
Never one to shy away from difficult topics, Lee and co-writer Kevin Willmott weave a dynamic tale filled with action, intrigue, and suspense with the horrors of war and the atrocities faced particularly by African-Americans – who fought and sacrificed lives and limbs for a country that has not settled its debts to them.
I love how the film prominently notes a not as well-known real-life hero, Milton L. Olive III, who in 1965 sacrificed his life by jumping on a grenade to save his squad. He was a mere 18-years-old, and was the first Black man to be awarded the Medal of Honor during the war.
“African-American soldiers made up a disproportionate number of Vietnam deployments and casualties, as well as Post-War Unemployment and Homelessness.” – DA 5 BLOODS production notes
According to Irving M. Allen, “Black veterans suffer from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) at a higher rate than white veterans. Diagnosis and treatment is complicated by the tendency to misdiagnose Black patients, by the varied manifestations of PTSD, and by patients’ frequent alcohol and drug abuse and medical, legal, personality, and vocational problems.”
No other character in Lee’s film gives a more heartbreaking display than Lindo as a veteran suffering from PTSD and carrying additional burdens from the war – that impacted not only his life, but that of his family and most importantly his son David (Majors).
The love-hate dynamic between the aforementioned characters was emotionally fascinating to witness and played to the hilt by both actors. By the end of the film, all feelings you may have for each at the beginning will certainly be tested and/or changed.
An engaging, character-driven story, led by a cast of Black all-star veterans and the newer but no less talented Majors, DA 5 BLOODS is a gem that is greatly needed, and very much on-time in displaying the racial inequalities and social injustices Black veterans are still attempting to overcome. I rate it 4.0 out of 5 on the MMTrometer.
And you can check out the latest AAFCA Virtual Roundtable, featuring Spike Lee, Delroy Lindo and Jonathan Majors discussing the film in the video below, and make sure you subscribe to The AAFCA Channel and MusicMoviesThoughts TV on YouTube.
Until next thought, Thomasena