Spike Lee’s Netflix drama “Da 5 Bloods’ features Delroy Lindo, Clarke Peters, Isiah Whitlock Jr. and Norm Lewis as veterans returning to Vietnam.


Spike Lee was supposed to premiere his drama “Da 5 Bloods” at May’s Cannes Film Festival, where he was to have been jury president, with a gala World premiere. The coronavirus pandemic shut down theaters worldwide and the festival.

“The World changed, we made adjustments,” says Lee, whose film streams Friday on Netflix amid national social unrest following the death of George Floyd in police custody.

The story of four disenfranchised African American veterans (Delroy Lindo, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Clarke Peters and Norm Lewis) returning to modern-day Vietnam, interspersed with real Vietnam-era war protests, makes for urgent viewing, Lee even gave New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees and coach Sean Payton an early look at the film after Brees’ controversial comments (and subsequent apology) about athletes protesting racial injustice during the national anthem. 

“They loved it when they understood that what’s going on in the World today was in the film,” says Lee, 63, who spoke to USA TODAY about protests, change and the rhetoric around defunding police.

USA TODAY review: Spike Lee’s timely war epic ‘Da 5 Bloods’ finds love and brotherhood amid injustice

Question: Your ‘Miracle at St. Anna’ depicted World War II, but how important was it to show the black soldiers’ experience in Vietnam, along with the protests back home?

Spike Lee: I was not alive in World War II. So the Vietnam War was much more personal, the first war televised into American homes. I grew up with it. In 1967, I was 10 years old. I was watching it on the news and the anti-Vietnam War movement. Also, the people against the anti-Vietnam movement, saying stuff you still hear today like, “America, love it or leave it.” Which is idiotic. 

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I’m very happy I got to screen this film months ago for black and Puerto Rican Vietnam vets in New York City. I made the film specifically for them, and they all thanked me. They also said, “What took you so long?”

Q: You shot in Vietnam. What struck you about the people’s attitudes toward Americans?

Lee: It was my first time there. We had great experiences shooting in Chiang Mai and Bangkok, and in Ho Chi Minh City. When I would say, “Vietnam War,” people were quick to remind me, “We don’t say ‘Vietnam War.’ We say, ‘The American War.’ ” I found that striking, That’s how they see it. The Americans invaded Vietnam, not the other way around. The French colonized Vietnam, not the other way around. 

Q. The scene of your veterans dancing through an “Apocalypse Now”-themed Ho Chi Min City nightclub is very fun. Does that place exist?

Lee: That’s a real club in Ho Chi Minh City. They want to go to the club before they go to the jungle. And that’s the spot. That scene was so much fun. All the cast and crew were dancing. It was a great day.

Q: With the nationwide protests following George Floyd’s death, are you heartened to see marchers of all races take to the streets? 

Lee: Yes, I am, by the very diverse mosaic of America. This mosaic of America is going to show up at the polls in November. That’s my hope, along with police reform. Or all of these marches are in vain. People are not just marching to be marching, putting their lives at risk. People are marching for a change. 

Q: What are your thoughts on the call to defund police departments?

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Lee: The narratives have been changed, just like they successfully changed the narrative of what (former San Francisco 49er) Colin Kaepernick was kneeling about into something else. They’re doing the same thing with this thing called “defunding the police.” They tried to twist it to people saying, “Let’s have no police.” No one is saying that. You’ve got to have police who do their job (and) don’t kill black and brown people. When I hear the term to “defund the police,” I don’t think that is saying police are not needed. It’s been twisted into that.

Q: What should the NFL do about Kaepernick, who is still without a team after leading the national anthem kneeling protest? 

Lee: It was bogus that Commissioner Roger Goodell of the NFL, the No Freedom League, apologized to his players while never mentioning Colin’s name. I think that was a punk move. 

Q: You were part of a 45-minute Zoom meeting with the New Orleans Saints and Drew Brees. How did that go?

Lee: It was a great meeting. Coach Payton gave me a great introduction and I just spoke with an open heart to the team and took questions. Drew was on the call and asked me two questions. I’m not going to delve into what was said. All I’ll say is it was a great Zoom call filled with positivity and love.

Q: So are you looking forward to a Cannes jury do-over in 2021? 

Lee: I’m going to be president of the jury: Cannes, May 2021. They asked me, “Do you want to come back?” I said, “Hell, yeah.”

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