Exactly 20 years ago, director Spike Lee was accused of opening old wounds with his cult classic Bamboozled (2000), the satirical comedy drama that highlighted the misuse of African people’s images in the popular TV culture. Ironically, two decades later, in the aftermath of George Floyd incident, his latest outing on Netflix, Da 5 Bloods, is being applauded for its spot-on timing.
Well, the film is not just about four African-American veterans returning to Vietnam decades after the war to find their squad leader’s remains, but the fifth Blood, Stormin Norman. Or to repossess the war-time stash of gold that was buried!
The narrative effortlessly connects black history spanning decades to a 21st century hashtag, Black Lives Matter, because, both in reality and on celluloid, they have hardly mattered. “When you pick 20 million black people and make them fight all your wars, and pick all your cotton, and you never give them any real recompense sooner or later, their allegiance towards you is going to wear thin.”
Stormin Norman (Chadwick Boseman) owns every second of screen time as the fifth Blood. He is their mentor, a warrior, a thinker, or as the other Four Bloods put it, “Our Malcolm and our Martin.”
Boseman scuttles every bit of apprehension in any member of the audience of coming across as the super-starry and duper popular Black Panther. In the backdrop footage, you can’t help but nod to boxing champion Muhammad Ali’s scathing remarks on the so-called enemy in the Vietnam, “My conscience won’t let me go shoot my brother or some dark people or some poor people, hungry people in the mud, for big powerful America and shoot them for what? They never called me Nigger, they never lynched me.”
Da 5 Bloods is a bullet shot in the hours of celluloid war history usually delivered from a typical Hollywood white man’s perspective. Statistics are thrown open in the first few minutes, as are the disturbing scenes from the war, the need for it and the futility of it. It’s a pleasure to spot French actor Jean Reno again, as the suave bad guy Resroache. For the majority of the Indian audience who were introduced to the actor in The Pink Panther, and last caught him in 2012 Chef, or at The Cannes or at Tribeca Film Festival.
At a super-stretchy two-and-a-half hour of run-time, Lee raises way too many unsettling questions and issues all at the same time. “War is about money. Money is about war.” The ones who fought it have been left unsung. Not in a classic Spike Lee outing like this though.