As the world continues to fight for the justice of George Floyd, Academy award-winning director Spike Lee delivers the perfect Black history lesson with his latest joint, Da 5 Bloods. Now streaming on Netflix, the action-packed film follows four black Vietnam War veterans—Paul (Delroy Lindo), Otis (Clarke Peters), Eddie (Norm Lewis), and Melvin (Isiah Whitlock, Jr.)— as they reunite at the Ho Chi Minh City Hotel and embark on a mission to bring home the remains of their fallen brother and squad leader Norman (Chadwick Boseman) along with a golden hidden treasure secured for them.
Based on an original screenplay by Danny Bilson and Paul DeMeo, Da 5 Bloods touches on the realities many Black Vietnam veterans of the ’70s experienced upon their return home of civil injustice—from post-traumatic stress disorder to systemic racism to being called “baby killers” despite being drafted by the U.S. military against their will.
Lee and his production company 40 Acres and a Mule joined forces with fellow scriber Kevin Willmott (BlacKkKlansman), composer Terence Blanchard (BlacKkKlansman), and Netflix producers Lloyd Levin, Beatriz Levin, Jon Kilik to bring the Da 5 Bloods to life.
Ahead of the film’s premiere, VIBE correspondent/host Jazzie Belle sat down with Lee and the cast—including Jonathan Majors who plays Lindo’s son, David— to discuss the uncomfortable significance of the MAGA hat, the deep-seated brotherly love between their characters, and what they hope viewers can take away from the film.
“Communicate with each other. This movie is just the tip of the iceberg,” said Whitlock, Jr. “Hope. Learn your history and hope,” added Lewis. “Make sure this isn’t just one chapter of your history that you know,” pointed out Peters. “Now, use this as the portal to everything else over the past hundred years, the good and the bad. The successes of the scientists, the mathematicians, the inventors, as well as the atrocities. There’s a huge disparity in all of that stuff. And America would not be America without us.”
On whether the constant telling or our Black stories in films is retraumatizing or cathartic
Lee: It’s a combination of both. It’s not one or the other. As Black people, we go through some sh*t, good and bad. (laughs) It’s hard, but here’s the thing though. It’s been hard from day one. 1619, our ancestors. That first ship landed in Jamestown, Virginia. It’s never been easier. It’s been getting easier, you might say, but it’s never been easy from the get-go.
On whether Kanye’s support of Donald Trump and the MAGA hat
Lee: This really had nothing to do with our brother. I mean he’s not the only one that has drunk from the orange pitcher of Kool-aid. There’s a very small percentage. We point out that Black guy’s behind Trump at every rally hold up a sign [saying] “Black for Kanye,” so it’s not just our brother Kanye…and also story-wise, character-wise, it really injects some tension between [the people of] the group. Because when you’re in a war with somebody, that bond is like that. It’s going to take some really extra stuff to see an issue come up where they’re not on the same page.
On whether who has become more woke in the midst of today’s protests
Lee: I think we’ve been woke as the new terminology is. I think what’s happening is our white brothers and sisters are getting woke. I think that’s the biggest difference. L.A. is a great great great example of that….and that’s always been a thing. In many of our great writers [like] James Baldwin and I can’t name them all, have said it is not the responsibility of black people to fix racism. That don’t make no goddamn sense.
Delroy Lindo and Jonathan Majors
On the apprehension behind associating the MAGA hat with his character in the film
Lindo: The Trumpian piece, that was the only piece I was hesitant about. It was never, “Spike, I don’t want to play this part.” It was always about, for my initial response was, “Spike, can we change this? Can we change that aspect? Can I be a conservative? Can I be an arch-conservative?” I don’t want to be this with that hat and all. And Spike needed it. Ultimately, he needed that component I’m the film. I respected that and I was able to get past it. It was never a question of me not wanting to be a part of this because I absolutely did. I just wanted initially to change that component. In retrospect, that component needed to be there. There were certain times when it was quite uncomfortable, but once I rationalized it in my head, it was a part of what was a number of other parts in the characteristics of this character that were brilliant to negotiate and engage.
On the lesson learned while working on set with Lee and the cast
Majors: It was a moment of listening, of being very quiet and listening and also knowing your cue and knowing when there is a void here for whatever reason. And usually, when you look around and say something is missing, it’s because you’re the one that’s supposed to be feeling that. What I gathered from listening, was a great deal of experience. It’s so interesting as an actor because we feel things and so to be opposite people who are also feelers, who also really, really, throw punches—no one’s pulling punches, when they say it, they mean it. And to listen and feel that then and then go, “There’s the void. Oh, my turn,” boom The confidence after leaving this project…I left this project and then went to work on my TV show. I had just come from wrestling and working and training at one of the toughest gyms in cinema. I was like, “Oh, let’s go. I’m ready for this.”
Norm Lewis, Clarke Peters, and Isiah Whitlock Jr.
On the importance of seeing camaraderie among Black men on film
Peters: I think it’s extremely important. It is as important as you breathing. If Black men don’t try to find a way to love each other, we might as well go ahead and give ourselves up, really. Because I grew up in the ’60s where there was this “flower power” peace love kind of thing, that has stayed within me, you know? I love these brothers off the film as well. I think that it is important for the youth to see that and for the older brother to be reminded of that because they were doing it back in the day themselves, they just forgot. Don’t let this world stifle your love.
On how different it was to work with Spike Lee on this film versus the others
Whitlock Jr.: This is about the 6th film I’ve done with Spike, so I’ve gotten to know Spike. I know how he works. I’ve grown comfortable working with him. I don’t bring the anxiety like I brought with the first couple of films. I’ll never forget when I first started working with him, he said: “You just gotta relax and do your thing.” When he walked away, I said to myself, “Do my thing. I didn’t even know I had a thing.” (laughs) But I better find it quickly. Well, I found my thing and I keep doing my thing. Basically what he was saying was look, just be yourself and bring that quality to the film which is why you’re here. I love working with him, I hope it’s not the last time.
On how he landed the role as Eddie after Spike shared the film’s script with him
Lewis: I stay up until four in the morning, reading the script. He called me the next day and said, “Let’s go have dinner.” We had dinner, talked about the script. Still no offer or anything like that. He’s like, “What do you think?” I loved the script. I said, “It’s great. Congratulations, I hope that this goes forward.” (laughs) And then he said, “What do you think about Eddie?”… “Eddie’s a great character. Listen, congratulations. Keep going forward, I hope this works for you.” He says, “I want you to play Eddie.” Oh, thank God. There was some point to this whole thing and so from that, it was just so exciting and getting to know I was going to do a Spike Lee joint. Reading the script and [knowing] that it was a departure from what he had done before. I mean there’s still a lot of the same elements, being that it’s an action-packed film. The fact that I was going to go to Thailand and do this…all these great people that I’d admired for years. It was just brilliant.
Interview’s music bed provided by Gus.