“Da 5 Bloods” & the USA’s Ongoing Failure to Overcome Its Past

Da 5 Bloods is timely, powerful, educational and important.

Says Netflix, which is airing this movie and has a lot at $take with a production budget of $35–45 million, one of Spike Lee’s more expensive movies. Here’s one nod in the company review to the Vietnamese, routinely neglected in US portrayals of the US War in Viet Nam (my bold). The fact that it is invariably “all about US(A)” is, of course, one of the problems.

Da 5 Bloods does humanize the Vietnamese side of the conflict, and it has its shortcomings in that regard. We see the weight of the war and the impact it still has through the bombs that continue to go off, kill, and maim. Spike shows a sympathetic eye to the feelings of Vietnamese people, but because this was an action movie, he still presents them as the bad guys as well. This is a dynamic that deserves a roundtable discussion on its own.

(In case you need a refresher or a brief history lesson, have a look at this 30 April 2020 article entitled A Letter From Viet Nam on the Occasion of the 45th Anniversary of the End of the War.)

Full disclosure: I did not watch the movie and therefore will not pretend otherwise. Below are three views, including one from a young Vietnamese with a local perspective that is conspicuously absent in Lee’s movie, and two from US veterans, the first of which was emailed to Spike Lee @ sjl4[AT]nyu.edu.

I’m sure people who like action movies and don’t know very much about Viet Nam or the war will see this as “timely, powerful, educational and important.” The rest of us see it for the exploitative tripe that it is.

Shalom (שלום), MAA

Mr. Lee,

You really flopped with Da 5 Bloods.

Being a Vietnam combat veteran with PTSD, and considering whatever the premise you originally conjured up, I could barely get through the first hour.  So many things depicted wrongly and inaccurately. Sad. You obviously did not do your homework, and at my expense I might add.

My #1 criteria for most movies is Believability.  There was no believability with this story. Zilch. It was mishmash at best.  It has the appearance of a production gone very wrong and only becoming salvageable because of a Netflix deal and a global pandemic. Box Office receipts would most likely have been very bad.

This movie will not be a hit with black veterans either.  In fact, my guess is that it will be an embarrassment. 

Suggestion? Stick to what you know.  …said the Vietnamese chicken vendor to the psychopathic vet.

And by the way, why continue the same, sad, and condescending look at the proud and vigilant Vietnamese people?  Presenting black veteran soldiers (and all soldiers) as victims of a rotten empirical power (USA) should equally qualify all Vietnamese people similarly.  You gave zero recognition to this beautiful country and its people; just Americanized, trashy views of bar flies hanging out in clubs named Apocalypse Now and gold hungry thugs waiting in the jungle to get their share.

Sad indeed.

RG (Source: Email)

Da 5 Bloods by Mike Hastie (Source: Email)

Vietnamese woman at 50th Anniversary of the My Lai Massacre in 2018. Photo by Mike Hastie

It is now 2:00 AM in Portland, Oregon. I just got through

watching Spike Lee’s 2hr. and 35min. film on Viet Nam.

I have two words to describe this film:

EXTREMELY SHALLOW.

I was very disappointed in Spike Lee.

I thought he had more depth.

Not only did he make the Vietnamese

in the film look and act stupid, but he

made the five black actors playing

five black soldiers look and act superficial.

I “served” ( and I use that word loosely ) with

black soldiers in Viet Nam. I knew some of

them very well. Many of them were medics.

In my opinion, none of those black soldiers

would have liked this film.

It did not help the cause of Black History,

as so many young people, black and white,

are probably going to give this film a lot of

credence.

As a Viet Nam veteran, this film was an

embarrassment.

Spike Lee did not get this film right.

The main actor, Delroy Lindo, who

is well known in Hollywood, played

the part of an American soldier who

hated ” Gooks.”

On top of that, the soldier he played

wore a baseball cap that had this

written on it: “Make America Great Again.”

That part of the story was utterly absurd,

along with the gold they were trying to get

back to the U.S.

You would have to see the movie to understand.

The only part of the movie that I felt had some

credibility was the historical content of what

was happening in the U.S. during the time

period of this film.

Too bad, Spike Lee just didn’t get it.

Too bad, a lot of people are going to think

this film was the way it was.

Too bad, there was a lot of killing in this

movie at the expense of the Vietnamese.

Too bad, the Vietnamese were disrespected

by this American made movie.

Too bad I watched this film, thinking it might

have some historical substance.

Too bad a close friend of mine in Viet Nam

who was a black medic had to die as a result

of being in Viet Nam.

Rest In Peace Willie Hemphill.

I’m glad you never saw this film.

Mike Hastie, Army Medic Viet Nam, June 13, 2020 – in America but my heart is Vietnamese.

Da 5 Bloods – Netflix by HHH (Source: Facebook)

Almost all of the American movies about the Vietnam War that I’ve seen, from the cinematic masterpieces like Apocalypse Now or Full Metal Jacket to the action films like the Rambo franchise, have all missed the point of the event and only deliver very twisted, caricatur-ish, misguided versions of what white American view it.

So when I saw trailers for Da 5 Bloods – a Vietnam War movie from one of the most respected directors in Hollywood – Spike Lee, who made Do The Right Thing and Blackkklansman, telling a story from the perspective of Black veterans, I was excited. I saw Hanoi Hannah played by one of the most famous actresses and film producers in Vietnam – Van Ngo, and I’m totally thrilled. And I’m so convinced when I see T’challa himself played a part in the movie.

I have been let down tremendously. Spike Lee basically did the exact same thing all of the rest of the other movies about the war made by white men, both in story and the themes.

One of the biggest sins of the movie is the complete misrepresentation of what Vietnam is today, as well as what it was back then. Nobody in Vietnam would see Apocalypse Now and put it up as a backdrop for a bar. Old men dressing like the ones in that restaurant would have NEVER EVER EVER EVER stepped one foot into that kind of establishment. They just simply don’t. EVER. There’s absolutely NO restaurant of the same design like that would have allowed an amputated little beggar into their place. And NO kid at that same age would have a clue what the hell a G.I. even is. And funny how he walked in from the door directly to these guys asking for their money and when they refused, he walked straight out. He would’ve taken a few rounds to the other tables first. And firecrackers are 100% illegal in Vietnam, it would’ve taken that little one legged kid around a week with a huge network of underground dealers to get that number of firecrackers to throw into a bunch of old black American men who didn’t give him money. That shit happens to him every single day from his own people, there’s no call for revenge.

A trip like this for a bunch of old black American to go deep into a Vietnamese jungle, which btw, is heavily monitored by actual official Vietnamese rangers, border patrols, several types of policemen and even military, would have taken them around 100 types of different documents from 100 different branches of the Vietnamese government. Mine fields like those would’ve been closed down and heavily watched by so many levels of bureaucracy you wouldn’t believe. Even then, they wouldn’t have had such a nice tour guide like Vinh to show them around, there would’ve been at least 20 officers of the government to accompany them as mandatory every single step of the way. And trips to uncover both Vietnamese and American bodies within the jungles are done both by several different NGOs, the locals, and Vietnamese government almost everyday. Those are the kinds of people the would’ve encountered on their trips into the jungle, not just a group of white people walking around trying to find mines and bombs. WE are the ones doing it, NOT a bunch of French people.

And what did it take them to find the gold? Probably 2 digs with a tiny shovel? Are you kidding me? That shit would’ve been found by either the locals or the authority years and years ago. It’s been 45 years since the end of the war. A shallow buried treasured like that would’ve been melted so long ago.

And once again, the Vietnamese people, one of the most important parties in this whole war mess started by white men, is depicted as barbaric and mindless villains running around acting like lunatics, just like every single other Vietname war movies made by white men. Vinh is the only “good” character here who does literally nothing active or directly involved in the story. Without him, the story would’ve unfolded mostly the same way, unrealistically. And I’m so annoyed how the villain is a French guy. The conflict is between a bunch of Americans, regardless of skin color, and a French guy who has Vietnamese minions. There’s no actual Vietnamese “character” with dimensions or depths in this story. It’s once again about a bunch of foreigners thinking they can turn our country into their war zone and push us aside.

Don’t let me started on how the Viet Cong started shooting from their hiding places among the trees directly at the helicopter before it even lands. Seriously man. We didn’t win the war by exposing our positions stupidly like that. We’re not a bunch of mindless savages. You would’ve never done something like that in your movie if you just studied a little bit deeper.

And hey, that chicken guy on the boat in the river market? That’s probably the cleanest, most well-fed, palest, and fashionable chicken seller in all of Vietnam. His face doesn’t have a day of hardship on him. And I can assure all of you tourists who are interested in visiting Vietnam. Our people don’t EVER randomly accuse tourists of killing our parents like that. I PROMISE!

Now I see what Spike Lee is trying to do here with all the messages and themes about Black American experiences throughout American history, I get it. But he picked the wrong setting for that. It’s just not the right one. Do that on U.S. soil, that’s an American problem. Don’t drag Vietnam into your mess anymore. If you’re gonna talk about the Vietnam war again, talk to us, your old ENEMIES, so we can understand each other, and tell a story that reflect the complexity of that war, from both sides, especially ours. Not another one-sided and narrow point of view like this.

I’m sorry but I felt disrespected and looked down upon watching this movie. It was bad. Really bad.

HHH

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