Spike Lee’s ‘Da 5 Bloods’ Misses the Mark—and Does a Disservice to Its Women

Courtesy of Netflix
Since 5 Bloods, like BlacKkKlansman, is another attempt by the extremely clever Spike Lee to mix facts and fictions to better tell the truth of our time. This film, which is now streaming on Netflix, is about the complex and diverse experiences of four black Vietnam War veterinarians - the Bloods of the same name - who return to the country to uncover a lost treasure and the remains of their fallen commander (Chadwick) Boseman , in flashbacks). It's a weighty project skilfully managed by actors Delroy Lindo, Clarke Peters, Isiah Whitlock and Norm Lewis - titanium-style actors who have become star-worthy mainly due to the systemic racism that has permeated the industry forever have withdrawn. This behind-the-scenes reality is a fitting context for their characters, who, given the racism to which they are exposed from all sides, have difficulty reckoning with their complicity in violent American imperialism. However, the film's Netflix glitz and Lee's decision to largely bypass Vietnamese subjectivity and experience beyond war photography and stereotypes jeopardize the stronger ideas in the film.
Even if Lee is not entirely successful, he still makes films far superior - formal, intellectual, and purely entertaining - than his colleagues. Nevertheless, it is his high level of competence and his craft that clearly emphasize the short-sighted and patriarchal aspects of his filmmaking. Peters, who plays the former medic Otis and is the most sensible of the group, relies on a former girlfriend, Tiên, to bring him and the boys together and liquidate their sweetheart. But Tiên, played by Lê Y Lan, is cast as a racist cartoon, the cunning, exotic Asian woman who asserts herself sensually and discreetly. Her daughter Michon (Sandy Hương Phạm) is clearly mixed, her father an unidentified black man (you could guess who that is). Unfortunately, instead of examining her experience, Michon is portrayed as a docile "tragic mulatto" cartoon. And the leader of black vets, Vinh (Johnny Trí Nguyễn), is seen as a cultural informant who alternates between opposing Vietnamese communities (northern communism and southern pro-US anti-communism) and the United States - sharing Vietnam.
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Rather than writing full Vietnamese and female characters, Lee and co-author Kevin Willmott, who revised an original screenplay by Danny Bilson and Paul De Meo, focus on restoring a heroic narrative for traumatized black American men. In reality, portraying complex Vietnamese and black Americans (not to mention black Vietnamese) isn't an either-or equation, and if Lee Angela Davis - whom he introduced at the beginning of the film - had listened more closely, he might have been able to do that Roger that. An internationalist perspective is emphatically gestured at the beginning of the film, but ultimately summarized briefly. And instead of using documentary interludes to penetrate and explain the tradition of black radicals, Lee is busy transferring clichés from war veterinarians to black characters, especially Paul, who is a Trump-supporting fanatic that we seem to have a passport for should give because his military friends do it.
But Da 5 Bloods contains bright spots and studies of blackness, imperialism, and Vietnamese-communist dissent that are worth hearing. The hot Veronica Ngo plays the famous Hanoi Hannah, a real radio host during the Vietnam War, who turned her attention to US troops. In one scene, she reports about the murder of Martin Luther King Jr. and begs black G.I. to return home, where her own communities need them to protest on the street.
Jonathan Majors plays Pauls Morehouse Black Studies graduate and son of a public school teacher, David. It contains the flexible, multi-dimensional acting talent of a Viola Davis or Adam Driver as well as the charisma and intelligence of a Denzel Washington or Hong Chau. This means, as Lee himself claimed, that majors will be a household name. Majors' David is an unloved little boy in the body of an adult man who seeks the approval of his concerned father. The actor does a lot, both physically and intellectually, with a character sheet that is obviously not there, that changes from crazy to solemn in no time and never hits the wrong note (Wes Anderson, who tends to need just that area in his own Films, would do well to take note).
But great performances don't make a great movie. I've found that many of the white male critics who hold the high-level editorial positions that allow them to write important articles about Da 5 Bloods and interview the actors in the film are a kind of polite “I'm out of my mind Depth "bypassing the ideas of the film instead of opting for an assessment of the pace and organization of the story. This approach awkwardly reflects Lee's own missteps with Da 5 Bloods, meaning that if the director doesn't seem to fully understand, he mostly withdraws and refuses to penetrate deeper into unknown territory while doubling on previously trodden ground. Netflix's support doesn't seem to help here either, as the company's original productions get dizzy on the surface rather than the substance. Lee must be willing to question his own relatively newly discovered comfort in the industry to make new films that outperform his hard-won classics.
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