A New Spike Lee Joint


Spike Lee’s latest, Da 5 Bloods, is a powerful, timely, and oddly beautiful film. Set in Vietnam, it tracks the return of four Black vets of that ill-fated war (called the American war by Vietnamese, the Vietnamese war by the Americans) to return the remains of their fallen squad leader (played in flashbacks by Chadwick Boseman) to his family, and some hidden gold while they’re at it. The film, coming in at more than 2 hours, does sag a bit in the middle for me but it does a lot in the entire run time – touching on the brotherhood of the men, their lives through the rear view – they’re old now and carry the baggage of the lives they’ve lived, their youth in the jungle fighting for a country that didn’t love them back (I mean, America not Vietnam, though obviously there’s no love lost between them and Vietnam either, speaking of), the veneer of tourism under which still rests resentment for the fractured families and lives, PTSD, the North star that is their fallen squad leader, the things he taught them about being men in the world, the things they’ve forgotten, a broken father-son relationship, discovery of a daughter from a war time relationship, actual landmines, severed limbs, betrayal, snakes, gunfights both back then and in the present, including one of those everybody dies Tarantino-esque gunfights at the climax…well, almost everybody dies, I won’t spoil for you who comes out of it alive and richer. But, well before the chants of Black Lives Matter in-story in the final act, there’s much that connects this film to real life, and the tortured relationship between the Black American and the country he/she loves. It is a reminder that this is not new, and an affirmation, following Blackkklansman, that Spike Lee is on his game (or back on his game) depending on your perspective on his filmography.

It made me want to do one of my Joanne’s Picks post, a Spike Lee themed one. So I did. I’ll tell you that I mention Crooklyn, She’s Gotta Have it, Get on the Bus, She Hate Me, etc., but not if they made my top 10 and in which order. You’ll have to click the link for the breakdown.

That’s it, that’s the post. My Sunday Post.

[EDITED TO ADD] Since posting this and my picks of Spike favourites, I had some thoughts I wanted to add – 1, I have never seen a Vietnam war nor Vietnam war adjacent film centering Blackness before (let me know if you have) . Even the Vietnam PTSD films like Rambo and Chuck Norris films about returning for POWs etc were all predominantly white narratives and yet fully a third or more (I don’t know the numbers) of the men who fought in that war were Black and their trauma has never really been acknowledged. A lot of stories have been overlooked which is a point Spike makes in this making-of

and acknowledging that, especially if the film is as well made as this, seems especially timely in light of comments about who fought and died for America. The parallel for me is all of the Black and Brown folks from the British Empire who fought and died in both WWI and II and who are erased from practically every WW film I’ve seen – including ones I liked like Dunkirk. And when one Brown dude is included in a background people cry anachronistic (!) because they have the megaphone and they don’t know our history. Speaking of… 2, one of the reviews I saw of this film referenced the soldiers’ reaction to the death of Martin Luther King and how the squad leader played by Chadwick Boseman was posed in that sequence in front of some palm trees and he went on to explain the symbolism of the palm trees, something to do with peace and Chadwick in that moment being almost Christ-like. Which is one interpretation and maybe even the correct one. But you know what I saw when I looked at the same image, something that communicated something a little different, the iconic Huey P. Newton image, which had already been referenced in Black Panther starring Chadwick Boseman;

and if you think Spike Lee is above picture-in-picture pop culture references of this type, check out Isiah Whitlock Jr.’s use of his signature drawn out “sheeeeeeeet!” from The Wire in film, which the cast and crew jokingly revisit in the post-credits. Maybe I’m seeing wrong but maybe I’m not, and maybe there needs to be more Black film critics in the eco-system to broaden the range of references at least.

My number 3, is on the point of diversity in the Spike Lee universe as relates to gender. There’s not a lot of it, interesting considering his breakthrough film was unapologetically female driven – and he has done a few since then, and he does have strong albeit small female roles in even his male driven films; so perhaps my point is not so much about the Spike Lee universe so much as the need for more universes within the larger Hollywood empire because there are so many voices (female voices, and Black female voices especially) in the margins still unheard. [END EDIT]

What have I been reading this week?

[ETA: Finished listening to an abridged audio version of Bernadine Evaristo’s Booker Prize winning Girl, Woman, Other, and did a Quick Take] I started an audio book called The Girl from Everywhere by Heidi Heili and three chapters in, I like it, though I’m still trying to figure out the world of the story but so far time travelling sea pirates as told by a strong, smart female voice is all I’ve got. I’ve also pushed forward a tiny bit more on Marlon James’ Black Leopard, Red Wolf; Greyborn  Rising by Derry Sandy; and another new read The Art of White Roses a teen/young adult Burt Award winning title by Viviana Prado-Núñez. Only a tiny bit at a time though; it’s been busy.  So much so I haven’t really watched anything else, except for Dave Chappelle’s 8:46 which was filled with more necessary rage than comedy, and was just what the culture needed right now.

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