The Black Lives Matter Moment in “Da 5 Bloods”
By Sean Collier
June 21, 2020
Director Spike Lee last week discussed the movement’s place in the filming of his acclaimed new film.
The following contains minor spoilers for “Da 5 Bloods.”
It’s hardly a surprise to report that Spike Lee’s “Da 5 Bloods” is a timely film. Over 25-plus features, the director has usually been well attuned to the cultural moment.
Arriving mere weeks into the global resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, however, some viewers have questioned if a particularly relevant scene near the film’s conclusion was a late addition.
In the epilogue of “Da 5 Bloods,” one of the film’s characters ensures a sizable donation is made to a local chapter of the national Black Lives Matter network of charities. A leader announces the gift before leading volunteers in a raucous, celebratory chant.
So: Was the scene a late addition?
Lee addressed the question Wednesday on a virtual junket held for members of the Critics’ Choice Association.
“The film is so current, people think we just filmed it,” Lee said. “People say, ‘Did you go back and ... shoot that Black Lives Matter scene?’”
The answer: Quite the opposite.
“That’s the first thing we shot.”
Production on “Da 5 Bloods” began in March 2019; at that time, the scene was already complete, Lee says. “We shot that during pre-production.
“That was shot before the first day of principal photography.”
While the Black Lives Matter movement — which coalesced after the use of that phrase as a Twitter hashtag in the wake of the 2013 murder of Trayvon Martin — may have been out of mind for some in recent years, the loose-knit organization continued to press for police reform and racial justice throughout the decade. In a story such as “Da 5 Bloods,” which uses its central story as a basis for wide-ranging consideration of Black identity in contemporary America, a brief acknowledgement of Black Lives Matter was a natural addition long before recent protests.
Lee says that, in comparison to earlier moments in the movement, recent weeks have taken on momentum unseen in decades — perhaps since the time of protests against the Vietnam War.
“When I’m watching CNN, I’m seeing people all over the world chant and shout that Black Lives Matter — who aren’t black, who aren’t brown.” The impact is immediately obvious, he says. “Statues are being torn down. Laws are being changed. Choke-holds are being [outlawed].”
The director recalls seeing Vietnam protests on television as a young man; he was in the micro-generation young enough to be aware of the war but too young to be drafted, he says. Footage from Vietnam, described by many historians as the first American war to be televised, stirred up passions nationwide; the “horrific, graphic” footage of George Floyd’s death, he says, has had a similar effect.
“That reverberated around the world. And people took to the streets.”
“Da 5 Bloods” is now streaming on Netflix.