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Movie Review: Da 5 Bloods is an essential part of Vietnam War cinema

Da 5 Bloods
Da 5 Bloods, Netflix

Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods is a new Vietnam War movie classic, worthy of a spot among Apocalypse Now, Full Metal Jacket, and Platoon. These movies all stand on their own and are inherently different because Vietnam itself was so unlike conventional warfare. It quite simply resists a particular storytelling mold due to it being a very singular kind of conflict, a different species of war. For Lee’s movie to make it into that list it needed to honor that same level of uniqueness present in those other films. I can gladly say it overwhelmingly achieves this.

Da 5 Bloods follows a group of four black Vietnam War veterans that go back to Vietnam to look for a box full of gold they buried during a mission with the intention of retrieving it later on. The group is led by Stormin’ Norman, played by an intensely magnetic Chadwick Boseman, a leader/teacher figure that basically acts as the Bloods’ own war version of Malcom X and Martin Luther King.

The film alternates between flashbacks and the present time (where it spends the majority of its time), with no de-aging tech used for the four main guys during flashbacks. Boseman’s character is the only one that looks young in the flashbacks because he’s the only one who didn’t make it out of the war.

It was so refreshing not being distracted by any de-aging techniques, which made The Irishman such a frustrating watch for me. I couldn’t go five minutes at a time without asking myself why a another actor wasn’t cast in the role of the younger Robert DeNiro.

In fact, the decision not to make the four main characters younger digitally also plays into some of the film’s strongest themes: combat memory and PTSD. That the same actors played both past and present versions of their characters gave the flashbacks a tragic sense of remembrance that communicated the very rough reality of how combat vets never truly leave the war behind. It’s a constant thing that makes vets think their wars never really end (another theme explored in the movie).

Da 5 Bloods
Da 5 Bloods, Netflix

As stated earlier, the story stays the great majority of its time in the present. Their final mission in Vietnam–the retrieval of the buried gold–brings with it discussions on reparations and why black soldiers specifically deserve what’s rightfully theirs due to fighting for an America that didn’t respect them nor acknowledged their sacrifices back on the homefront.

This theme stuck with the movie throughout, making sure it was a part of every discussion that took place between the four vets. Spike Lee makes the point come across even clearer with his signature cuts to archival footage of black protests and black leaders like MLK and Malcom X adding their two-cents on any given discussion, even if it’s in presence alone. It evokes a kind of continuity for the black soldiers, seeing in Vietnam a contradiction of the very idea of military service. Why fight when black lives are being disregarded back home? Why not find this gold and give it back to the people? These questions lie at the heart of the film.

Black Lives Matter discourses are also echoed throughout the film thanks to its aggressive focus on how black military service means an entirely different thing altogether when compared with white military service. This sets this particular Vietnam War movie apart from the others, making it so different and unique in its own right. Apocalypse Now, for instance, explores war as madness. Platoon goes for misguided leadership, the absence of order, and a complete lack of accountability in war. Full Metal Jacket approaches the war as a morally corrupt and senseless act of mass violence that’s too far gone for it to be redeemed. Da 5 Bloods is about how something as historically charged as race in America completely changes what soldiers fight for. How society treats these soldiers at home will determine how their war is fought on the battlefield.

Da 5 Bloods
Da 5 Bloods, Netflix

In other words, America brings a multitude of Americas to war, each meaning something different depending on who you ask and what color their skin is.

Delroy Lindo’s character, Paul, best exemplifies all of these metaphors. Paul is the character that most visibly carries the trauma of war on his persona. He’s unstable, angry, and resistant to help from the other vets. He’s a challenging character to engage with, but the movie’s genius is often seen through him as we go from being frustrated with Paul to understanding why it’s been so hard for him to leave the war behind.

Lindo puts on a performance for the ages. He grabs the audience and pulls them in close to him whether they want to or not, but it’s all for a cause. Spike Lee entrusts him with his signature monologue sequences, in which an actor stares straight to the camera to address a problem head-on and without restraint. Lindo steps up to the challenge and gives a monologue that we should be discussing for years to come as it ruminates on what happens when a country asks its most oppressed communities to go to war in its name. The monologue ties in well with the opening scenes of the movie in which we see archival footage of Muhammad Ali explaining why he refused to serve in the Vietnam War is shown.

Actors Isaiah Whitlock Jr., Norm Lewis, and Clarke Peters all do a fantastic job stepping into the shoes of the other three vets. They represent a cohesive unit that also struggles with leaving the war behind while also representing what Vietnam meant to them through their own character arcs. Clarke Peters in particular always keeps up with Lindo’s intensity, playing the part of the moral compass without falling to the trappings of passing judgment on any of his friends. Jonathan Majors as Paul’s son also becomes a mayor player as his fractured relationship with his father manifests and changes as the movie progresses. To a point, he represents inherited trauma and how the war extends beyond the combat veteran’s experience to become a generational problem.

Da 5 Bloods
Da 5 Bloods, Netflix

Da 5 Bloods is a powerhouse of emotion, politics, and black history that easily fits in with the Black Lives Matter movement currently voicing their anger on the streets today, but it never takes for granted that it’s first and foremost a Vietnam War movie. It’s important it doesn’t run away from that as the black experience in war has seldom been explored with the seriousness it deserves.

Vietnam War cinema in America has largely been dominated by white experiences of it. Spike Lee’s Vietnam War movie is invaluable because it sheds light on why it’s important everyone knows that not every soldier fights for their country for the same reasons. The color of a soldier’s skin dictates which version of America they’re fighting for, and they all differ on their definition of freedom.

Around the Tubes

New comic book day is tomorrow, are there any books you’re looking forward to? Sounds off below!

Around the Blogs:

Comics Alliance – Movie Batman Christian Bale Makes A Four-Year-Old Cancer Patient’s Dream Come True Great to see him do this.

CBLDF – Welcome to the New CBLDF.org! -A great look for the new site.

Altoona Mirror – Area veteran writing a comic book about life as a combat photographer -We’re seeing numerous comic books come out of the experiences of soldiers in these wars.

 

Around the Tubes Reviews:

CBR – Fairest #7

CBR – Swamp Thing #0

Around the Tubes

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The Graphic Policy office is still standing after the 5.8 earthquake yesterday (we’re just outside of DC in Virginia) and I wish I could say the piles of comics, graphic novels and movies thrown about due to it.  That’s not the case, and is really just post convention chaos.  While I attempt to get things in order, here’s the news you might have missed.

Around the Blogs:

Von Allan Studio – Minimum Wage and the Prices of Comics – A very good article about the comic book market and a look at wages over the years compared to the price of comics.

 

The Huffington Post – Comic Books go to war- A Very Brief History of the War ComicAlways great to see articles about comic book history.

Education Matters – Schools need comic booksA good article about using comic books in the classroom.  Reading, no matter what it is, is good for children.

Bleeding Cool – Marvel Fires Some Of Their Marketing People – A lot of people reported this and this article seems to be the most likely scenario and even handed.

Con Coverage:

Bleeding Cool – Baltimore Comic Con In My Pants by Joshua Lazarus

The Beat – Baltimore Comic-Con Photo Parade

The Beat – Fun times in Baltimore, 2011 edition

Around the Tubes Reviews:

IGN – Ultimate Comics: Ultimates #1

Primary Ignition – We3: Deluxe Edition

Sarah Glidden’s The Waiting Room


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Sarah Glidden, who tackled the subject of Israel in the excellent graphic novel How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less has published a twenty page web comic called The Waiting Room.  The web comic looks at Iraqi refugees who now call Syria home.

Syria is home to the world’s largest urban refugee population; hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have poured in since the 2003 invasion. Barred from joining the Syrian workforce, they attempt to navigate bureaucratic hurdles and find a new place to call home. Sarah Glidden, with contributing reporting from the Common Language Project, give us a window into their lives.

You can check out the web comic at Cartoon Movement.

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It’s Saturday and the weekend, and for those that follow internet memes, it comes after Friday.  It’s also sees the second major comic convention, Chicago’s C2e2.  Below is a special sections covering the news of the convention as well as the normal items we missed.

Around the Blogs:

Kotaku – Your Latest Reboot Is Sonic the Hedgehog’s Comic Book SeriesI’ve never been a huge Sonic fan.  I can’t wait for Mega Man though.

Primary Ignition – Comic Book Bloopers: Superman Loses His Religion – An interesting discussion about Superman and religion.

Winnipeg Free Press – ‘Comic Books Go To War’ examines cartoonist-journalists in world hot spots – Comic books and graphic novels are becoming a more acceptable form of examining news and current events.

Shelfari – Graphic Novel Friday: Interview with Mike Mignola – Nice interview with the well known comic creator.

Arts Beat – Meet the Super-Parents: Kevin Costner to Play Clark Kent’s Dad – With Diane Lane as his mom.

Bleeding Cool – C. Thomas Howell Has Some Amazing Spider-Man Spoilers For YouSoul Man is a classic!

C2E2 Coverage:

Comic Book Resources – C2E2 EXCLUSIVE: Remender’s Apocalyptic “Dark Angel Saga”

Comic Book Resources – C2E2: DC Nation

Comic Book Resources – C2E2: Welcome To The X-Men

Comic Book Resources – C2E2: Green Lantern Panel

Comic Book Resources – C2E2 EXCLUSIVE: “Star Wars: Dark Times” Strikes Back

Bleeding Cool – The C2E2 X-Men Slideshow

Bleeding Cool – Transforming Libraries At C2E2 With Greg Baldino

Bleeding Cool – Thor Movie Promotion At C2E2 – Pics And Video

Bleeding Cool – The Doors Open At C2E2, Now With Added Paul Cornell (VIDEO)

Bleeding Cool – Alan Moore’s Neonomicon #4 Out For C2E2

Bleeding Cool – Wandering C2E2 Before The Big Open – With Added Mario Burlesque

Bleeding Cool – In The C2E2 Bar…

Bleeding Cool – First Looks At C2E2 Setup

Bleeding Cool – First Looks At C2E2 Setting Up…

Bleeding Cool – “We’ve Got To Stop Publishing Late Books” – Dan DiDio

DC Source – Flashpoint Friday C2E2 Edition: Your Questions – Answered at C2E2!

DC Source – Flashpoint Friday C2E2 Edition: Fan Question

DC Source – Flashpoint Friday C2E2 Edition: FLASHPOINT goes digital

DC Source – DC Nation heads to Chicago for C2E2 this weekend!

Fantagraphics – Paul Hornschemeier at C2E2

The Beat – C2E2 ready to kick things off

PRLog – RIVER JORDAN, A Graphic Novel by Merik Tadros to be Launched at C2E2

Around the Tube Reviews:

Playback – Fear Itself: The Book of the Skull (Marvel)

Around the Tweets:

Choice Quotes


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Each week we bring you quotes from the comic books of the last week to show off it’s more than spandex and guns.

Avengers: The Children’s Crusade #4

Patriot – This is terrorism.  People could die.  And if we let that happen, then we become terrorists, just like Magneto.

Bring the Thunder #2

Wayne – They came from every branch of the military.  They weren’t recruited for their ability to work together.  They were recruited to kill.  That’s the side of war that gets obscured by the chain of command and the red tape.  In the end, the goal is to kill your enemy.

Ultimate Comics Captain America #1

(Redacted Spoiler) – You’re not a hero to them.  You’re just another blunt instrument the American government uses to bludgeon its enemies into submission.

Choice Quotes


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Each week we bring you quotes from comic books to show they’re not all “bam,” “pow” and “smack.”  Here’s this week’s Choice Quotes.

Avengers Academy #7

Reptil – Hello, Finesses… Due process of law?  You don’t execute people without a trial.

Hazmat – Now that’s priceless.  Reptil thinks we live in the world he read about in civics class.

Hank Pym – Believe in it or not, Hazmat, Constitutional rights still mean something.

DMZ #60

Narrator – Stupid war, endless war, professional war, political war… the notion that starting a war is somehow a security necessary.  No wonder people are in revolt.  They got a war declared on them, too

Twitter Tuesday


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It’s been quite a while but we’re bringing back Twitter Tuesday.  Below is a highlight of some of the past week’s more politically oriented Twitter posts from those in the comic book industry showing it’s not just geek stuff they discuss.

http://twitter.com/JobolComic/status/8752882127994880

Navy Turns to Graphic Novel to Help With Stress


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The DocsThe Navy has turned to graphic novels to help hospital corpsmen cope with stress due to war and combat deployments.  The Docs: A Graphic Novel focuses on four characters deployed as corpsmen in Iraq.  Developed for the Navy Medicine‘s Care for the Caregiver program the story is based on what real corpsmen and Marines face in combat and their personal experiences.  The Naval Health Research Center (NHRC) in San Diego developed the book.

Heidi Kraft, a clinical psychologist at the NHRC said:

Many of them are asked to play these dual roles, to function as one of that line unit but when someone is hurt, they are immediately turned to the caregiver role… Data shows our expeditionary corpsmen are struggling with a lot of these issues, and certainly that is not a surprise.” Kraft is also a former lieutenant commander and author of a war memoir, “Rule Number Two: Lessons I Learned in a Combat Hospital.

The goal was to find a way to get through and provide a training tool for the corpsmen and they felt graphic novels and comic books were popular with that age group.

You can read the graphic novel online here.

Choice Quotes


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Blue Agave and Worm

Bud – A Mexican superhero?  What, did you leave your sombrero at the cockfight?

Blue Agave – Oh-ho-ho!  How unusual, a condescending American making fun of a culture they don’t understand.

Bud – Yeah, all I just head was “blah, blah, blah” with an accent that made me want a aco.

Blue Agave – What the hell’s your problem, Bud?

Bud – My problem is people like you coming to this country and taking fame and glory that should go to an American superhero.

Deadpool Pulp #2

Deadpool – Most of these guys are ex-soldiers.  They came back from the war and found themselves lost.  We taught them to kill.  But we didn’t teach them what to do afterwards.  They didn’t fit in this new America anymore.

Liberty Annual 2010

Hughie – Well, on the one hand, it’s got no redeemin’ features whatsoever… but on the other, who am I to deny it’s creators their right to self-expression?  I mean fuck censorship, am I right?

Secret Six #26

Spy Smasher – We have the obligation above all others to make sure our government survives.

and

Deadshot – Not a member of PETA, I take it?

and

Alice – It colonization.  Imperialism.  We learned about it in school.  When a superior force subjugates an entire civilization.  There’s always murder.  And theft.  And rape.  And the destruction of culture.  The strong always pick on the weak.

Unknown Soldier #24

Narrator – War is a bridge with many tolls, and you can only hope there’s peace on the other side…

Almost American
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