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‘Da 5 Bloods’ – A History Lesson for Today

Updated: Jul 17, 2021

by Claire Brown

'Da 5 Bloods' Movie Poster

Da 5 Bloods,” Spike Lee’s new film, is a study in contrasts. It pits the past against the present, from the Civil Rights Movement of the 60s to Black Lives Matter, from the conflicts that rocked America during the Vietnam War to today’s socio-political divisions. It shines a light on wounds that still haven’t healed.

The film follows four aging Vietnam veterans on a mission to retrieve the remains of their squad leader: “Stormin’ Norman” Holloway. There is also an underlying reason for their quest: buried treasure. On the day Norman died, the squadron had been sent to locate a CIA shipment of gold bars intended for South Vietnamese allies.

The main characters – Paul, Otis, Eddie, and Melvin – reunite in Vietnam, meet with Vinh, their guide, and finalize plans. The group grudgingly allows Paul’s son David to accompany them after he unexpectedly shows up at their hotel. Almost immediately, it becomes obvious that the self-named “Bloods,” once united by racial identity, love, and trust, have grown beyond the bonds forged by circumstance and racial idealism. Their professions, economic differences, family lives, and principles couldn’t be more different.

From Civil Rights to Black Lives Matter

It is those differences that power a plot filled with as many twists and turns as the jungle the Bloods encounter. Lee uses archival film of Muhammed Ali, Dr. King, Angela Davis and others to contrast past and present. Iconic images, such as the 1968 photo of Gen. Nguyen Ngoc Loan executing Nguyen Van Lem on a Saigon street – suggest the War’s moral issues mesh with those of today.

Even the music blends the eras: jazz composer Terence Blanchard’s original score incorporates Marvin Gaye’s soul-stirring classics.

It’s in the flashback scenes; however, that Lee takes us by surprise. It’s the late 1960s and there they are, the five Bloods, in-country, joking, arguing, engaging in fierce combat with the enemy. But a closer look reveals four of the five are decades older than the fifth, Stormin’ Norman, still in his 20s. Ghosts don’t age.

Sharing Values Across Generations

Ultimately, “Da 5 Bloods” doesn’t resolve the racial and moral legacy of Vietnam. It thrusts it forward to today, to Black Lives Matter. But it does suggest many of us, from Boomers to Gen Alphas, share the same values. We all cherish freedom, justice, compassion, the dignity of all people. And the film suggests these commonalities can bring us to a better place.

The Dover Democrats have articulated these values as essential to safeguarding our democracy, our environment, our economy, and society. Read our Values Statement to learn more.

Stream “Da 5 Bloods” on Netflix. It runs 2 ½ hours and is rated “R.”


The author of this article is solely responsible for its content and the opinions expressed within it. For information on the Dover Democratic Committee, our mission, values and policies, please see “About Us” on this website.

Claire retired to New Hampshire in 2017 after spending 40 years in museum communications, most recently at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. Claire joined Dover Democrats after moving to Dover and serves on the Executive Committee and chairs its Communications Team. She lives in Dover, enjoys writing, gardening and cooking as well as caring for her two elderly dachshunds, Ivy and Nellie.

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