Da 5 Blood: Interview with Spike Lee on his New Film–Netflix, June 12, 2020

Delroy Lindo as Paul
Jonathan Majors as David
Norm Lewis as Eddie
Clarke Peters as Otis
Isiah Whitlock Jr. as Melvin
Chadwick Boseman as Norman
Mélanie Thierry
Paul Walter Hauser as Simon
Jasper Pääkkönen as Seppo
Jean Reno
Veronica Ngo as Hanoi Hannah
Giancarlo Esposito
Johnny Tri Nguyen

State of Mind

Spike Lee: I have been optimistic, I think “Do the Right Thing” is a very optimistic film, that was made 31 years ago. Look at Eric Garner, you have to ask yourself, how much has changed? I mean my mindset is day-by-day, and that was during the pandemic. So it has not changed. Day-by-day.

History Repeating Itself

SL: History has always repeated itself. What gives me optimism is to see the young white generation, my young sisters and brothers, who have joined us in the streets. So that has been very uplifting to me, that it’s not just black or brown people. It’s our white sisters and brothers too, which you saw in the civil rights movement, and so that is history repeating itself, which I saw growing up as a kid. I’m seeing it again today. Can I make a statement? Let’s try as best as we can, if we could concentrate on the movie instead of what is going on in the world because it’s all connected anyway.

Blacks Voting for Trump

Well, I don’t call him by his name. I call him Agent Orange, and the pun is intended when that is in a Vietnam film. My mother told me at a very, very young age, my late mother, my late dear mother, that all black people are in the group, we all think alike, look alike, etc. So there is a very small percentage of black people who drink that isn’t orange Kool-Aid.

Kevin Willmott, my co-writer, felt this would be a good thing, we thought what would be the most extreme thing we could do to put amongst these four guys, cause they aren’t all the same, they have different viewpoints. And automatically, I knew it had to be Agent Orange. Also, that would be a shortcut for the audience to understand what type of trauma he’s been in since the Vietnam War. And in other ways, he is almost like a Shakespearian tragic character. And I have to give out a shout out to my love, Delroy Lindo, cause he did his thing.

Plans Keep Changing

SL: God works in mysterious ways. Netflix was not planned. Here’s the plan, the plan was I was going to be the President of the Jury in Cannes Fesr and “Da 5 Bloods” world premiere would be in Cannes out of competition. That was the plan. And after that we would get a theatrical run like Scorsese had with “The Irishman.” There’s a thing called COVID-19 that changed plans.

Filming in Southeast

The morning after I won the Oscar, I was on a plane to Thailand. We shot the majority of the film in Thailand, Chiang-Mai, Bangkok, other places, and we finished in Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon, Vietnam. It was one of the most enjoyable, informative experiences of my life. Because as far as East goes, I’ve only been to Japan, that was it. This was my first time in Thailand, first time in Vietnam, and the cast, the crew, the people welcomed me and the Americans there with open arms, it was beautiful. It was hot though. And it was something that, we had to rush because we were trying to get in front of the monsoon season. But in Thailand, there are many days where we had the worst pollution in the world because the farmers burn their crops at that time. But look, we were ready for it, so it was a great experience and I look forward to going back.

Vietnam Movies

SL: A lot of Vietnam films were shot in the Philippines and not Vietnam. The reason why I cast Laurence Fishburne as a lead in my film “School Daze,” is because I saw him in “Apocalypse Now.” The reason why I cast Albert Hall in “Malcolm X” was because I saw him in “Apocalypse Now.” I have nothing but deep respect for Oliver Stone with his films about Vietnam, Oliver Stone is not just dreaming it, he was there, he was in Vietnam. I also have a lot of love for my brother Francis Ford Coppola, as you see, there are two homages to “Apocalypse Now.” So they are there for a reason. Did a small smile come on your face when you saw Robert Duvall in a helicopter and then you see these guys on a boat going up a river with the same plot.

Personal Movie?

SL: I was born in 1957, so I was ten years old in 1967, so I was old enough to know what was going on, but young enough not to be drafted. And I really tried to stay away from the hypothetical questions, but for me going back was, you have to remember that the Vietnam War was the first war that was televised in America’s homes. In New York, the local news was 6, the national news was on 7, so we saw the Vietnam War on TV. That is why when we go back to Vietnam in the film, we shoot Super 16, which is what they shot that documentary footage on the war for. And I remember the riots when Doctor King got assassinated, 1968, I was 11 years old. I remember the anti-war movement protest; I remember when Nixon resigned. So all these things, it’s not like World War II, a film I did called “Miracle at St. Anna,” I wasn’t alive then. But the Vietnam War, I was aware of what was going on. No pun intended with the Marvin Gaye song. I wasn’t old enough to go back and fight in the Vietnam War and I wasn’t old enough to be drafted. If I could go back, maybe I would have studied a little harder in school.

Need to Vote

SL: We have got to vote. He has to go. It is my belief that if this guy wins again, the world will be in peril, not just the United States of America, the world.  We have got to vote; we have got to register to vote.

Racial Problems

SL: It’s very important that people look at what has happened in America, but more importantly, look at what is happening in your own country. Because the United States of America is not the only country that has racial problems. And I think that that guy in Brazil is lucky, because what that guy is doing in Brazil, people aren’t looking at because of other world matters, but the guy in Brazil is just as bad as Agent Orange. So I think that, you could look at the United States, but also look at where you live.

Changes

SL: There have been some changes, I give you that, but what fundamental changes have happened? the black people are still killed in this country left and right. That’s how I look at it. Yes there have been changes, but black people are still being killed left and right, many times by the police, and to add insult to injury, these murderers walk free. There were four cops in Minnesota, only one has been charged. Those other three should be put on charges, in my opinion, charges should be pressed against those other cops too.

Impact of Art

SL: I do believe that art can change the world.  I will go to my grave believing that. Now to the degree of change, that is debatable.  I was asked how optimistic I feel, I am optimistic because I see a generation of young, my young white brothers and sisters, who have taken to the streets like they did in the 60s when I was growing up.  I have not seen that since the 60s, the enormous outpouring of white righteous people taking to the streets. I am reading a list of, listen to this people, very important, I don’t call them riots, I call them uprisings. Riot is a very negative word, so let’s be careful, words matter. When I am reading the list of these uprisers in the United States of America, I’m like Salt Lake City? How many black people are in Salt Lake City and also, there’s no sports going on, so I know the Utah Jazz ain’t around. Des Moines Iowa, how many black people are in Des Moines Iowa? We are seeing unprecedented numbers of righteous white Americans who are saying, excuse my language, fuck this, this shit has to stop and black lives matter.