2021 Screen Actors Guild Awards: ‘The Crown’ and ‘Schitt’s Creek’ are the top nominees

February 4, 2021

by Carla Hay

Pennie Downey, Marion Bailey, Josh O’Connor, Charles Dance, Olivia Colman, Tobias Menzies, Helena Bonham Carter, Erin Doherty, Michael Thomas and Pennie Downie in “The Crown” (Photo by Des Willie/Netflix)

With five nominations each, the Netflix drama series “The Crown” and Pop network’s Canadian comedy series “Schitt’s Creek” are the top contenders at the 26th annual Screen Actors Guild Awards, which will be televised on April 4, 2021. TNT and TBS will have the U.S. telecast of the show at 9 p.m. ET/ 6 p.m. PT. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the ceremony will not a large gathering but will instead be virtual.

“The Crown” is nominated for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series. “Schitt’s Creek,” which ended in 2020 after six seasons, is a contender for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy Series. Male and female cast members from both shows received individual nominations. The SAG Awards do not have supporting actor/actress categories for TV shows.

“The Crown” co-stars Gillian Anderson, Olivia Colman, Emma Corrin are three of the five contenders for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Drama Series. Meanwhile, Josh O’Connor of “The Crown” is nominated for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Comedy Series. For “Schitt’s Creek,” father and son co-stars Eugene Levy and Dan Levy are each nominated for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Comedy Series, while Catherine O’Hara and Annie Murphy are among the contenders for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Comedy Series.

For movies, the top nominees scored three nominations each: the Netflix drama “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” the Netflix drama “Da 5 Bloods,” the Netlix drama “The Trial of the Chicago 7” and the A24 drama “Minari.” All four films are nominated for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture.

The other nominations for “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” are Viola Davis (for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role) and Chadwick Boseman (for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role). The other nominations for “Da 5 Bloods” are for Boseman (Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role) and Outstanding Action Performance by a Stunt Ensemble in a Motion Picture. “The Trial of the Chicago 7” is also up for Outstanding Action Performance by a Stunt Ensemble in a Motion Picture, as well as Sacha Baron Cohen’s nod for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role. “Minari” co-stars also scored individual nods: Steven Yuen (for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role) and Youn Yuh-Jung (for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role).

The late Boseman (who died of pancreatic cancer in 2020) is one of two actors who received three nominations each at the SAG Awards this year. Colman received the previously mentioned two nominations for “The Crown,” plus a nomination for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role, for the Sony Pictures Classics drama “The Father.”

Eligible movies were those released in the U.S. in 2020 and in January and February 2021. The eligibility window, which usually ends at the end of a calendar year, was extended for movies because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Eligible TV programs were those that premiered on U.S. networks and U.S. streaming services in 2020.

Snubs and Surprises

Shira Haas in “Unorthodox” (Photo by Anika Molnar/Netflix)

Although “Da 5 Bloods” scored a nod for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture, Delroy Lindo didn’t make the cut in the category for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role. He’s still nominated as part of “Da 5 Bloods” cast. Focus Features’ “Never Rarely Sometimes Always” and Vertical Entertainment’s “Miss Juneteenth” were completely shut out of the SAG Awards this year, even though they’ve been winning acting awards and nominations elsewhere.

In television, the biggest snubs were for the Netflix limited series “Unorthodox” and for the HBO drama series “Insecure,” which received several Emmy nominations each for the 2019-2020 TV season, but were completely shut of the SAG Awards this year. Also left out of the SAG Awards race was the Amazon Prime Video anthology series “Small Axe.” And all of the programs produced by Ryan Murphy for Netflix were completely snubbed: the limited series “Hollywood” and “Ratched” and the movies “The Boys in the Band” and “The Prom.”

One of the biggest surprises in the movie categories was that the Netflix drama “Hillbilly Elegy,” which got mostly negative reviews, but received two SAG Award nods: Amy Adams is nominated for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role, while Glenn Close is among the nominees for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role. In the television categories, only two shows are represented in the category for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Drama Series: “The Crown” and “Ozark.” Laura Linney and Julia Garner are the nominees from “Ozark.”

Diversity and Inclusion

Cast members of “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.” Pictured in front, from left to right: Dusan Brown and Viola Davis. Pictured in back, from left to right: Chadwick Boseman, Colman Domingo, Michael Potts and Glynn Turman (Photo by David Lee/Netflix)

The racial diversity for SAG Award nominees is a big improvement in 2021, compared to 2020. In 2020, people of color were only 14% of the 50 nominees in the SAG Award categories for individuals. In 2021, that percentage doubled to 28%. People of color are about 28% of the U.S. population, according to the 2010 U.S. Census, and that number is expected to be much higher for the 2020 U.S. Census. Despite the overall increase in people of color who are SAG Award nominees in 2021, compared to 2020, there were some noticeable diversity problems. In the TV categories, no women of color were nominated in the categories for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Drama Series and Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Comedy Series. And absolutely no Latino/Hispanic people received nominations in any of the categories for individuals.

The black nominees in the movie categories for individuals are Boseman for “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” and “Da 5 Bloods”; Davis for “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”; Leslie Odom Jr. for “One Night in Miami”; and Daniel Kaluuya for Warner Bros. Pictures’ “Judas and the Black Messiah.” The TV categories for individuals have Sterling K. Brown for NBC’s “This Is Us”; Regé-Jean Page for Netflix’s “Bridgerton”; Daveed Diggs for Disney+’s “Hamilton”; Michaela Coel for HBO’s “I May Destroy You”; and Kerry Washington for Hulu’s “Little Fires Everywhere.”

In the SAG Award categories for groups this year, three of the five movies nominated for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture have predominantly black casts: “Da 5 Bloods,” “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” and “One Night in Miami.” “Minari,” which is also nominated in this category, has a predominantly Asian cast of Korean heritage.

Asians are represented the most with “Minari,” while Pakistani British actor Riz Ahmed of Amazon Studios’ “Sound of Metal” got a nomination for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role. Ahmed’s role in “Sound of Metal” represents the disabled community, since he portrays a heavy metal drummer who goes deaf. Another person of color who received a SAG nomination this year is Egyptian American actor Ramy Youssef of “Ramy,” who’s nominated for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Comedy Series.

Actors who are nominated for their portrayals of disabled people include the aforementioned Ahmed as a deaf musician in “Sound of Metal” and Anthony Hopkins as a man with dementia in Sony Pictures Classics’ “The Father,” who are each nominated in the same category. In television, Emmy-winning “I Know This Must Be True” star Mark Ruffalo portrays identical twins, one of whom has schizophrenia. For his role in this HBO limited drama series, Ruffalo is nominated for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Television Movie or Miniseries.

The LGBTQ community has very little representation among the SAG Award nominees this year. The only LGBTQ acting performances to get recognition are from straight actresses portraying queer women: Davis as real-life lesbian blues singer Ma Rainey in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” and Washington as fictional queer artist Mia Warren in “Little Fires Everywhere.”

Here is the complete list of nominations for the 2021 SAG Awards:

MOVIES

Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture 
“Da 5 Bloods” (Netflix)
“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” (Netflix)
“Minari” (A24)
“One Night in Miami” (Amazon Studios)
“The Trial of the Chicago 7” (Netflix)

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role
Riz Ahmed (“Sound of Metal”)
Chadwick Boseman (“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”)
Anthony Hopkins (“The Father”)
Gary Oldman (“Mank”)
Steven Yeun (“Minari”)

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role
Amy Adams (“Hillbilly Elegy”)
Viola Davis (“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”)
Vanessa Kirby (“Pieces of a Woman”)
Frances McDormand (“Nomadland”)
Carey Mulligan (“Promising Young Woman”)

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role
Chadwick Boseman (“Da 5 Bloods”)
Sacha Baron Cohen (“The Trial of the Chicago 7”)
Daniel Kaluuya (“Judas and the Black Messiah”)
Jared Leto (“The Little Things”)
Leslie Odom Jr. (“One Night in Miami”)

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role
Maria Bakalova (“Borat Subsequent Moviefilm”)
Glenn Close (“Hillbilly Elegy”)
Olivia Colman (“The Father”)
Youn Yuh-Jung (“Minari”)
Helena Zengel (“News of the World”)

Outstanding Action Performance by a Stunt Ensemble in a Motion Picture
“Da 5 Bloods”
“Mulan”
“News of the World”
“The Trial of the Chicago 7”
“Wonder Woman 1984”

TELEVISION

Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series
“Better Call Saul” (AMC)
“Bridgerton” (Netflix)
“The Crown” (Netflix)
“Lovecraft Country” (HBO)
“Ozark” (Netflix)

Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy Series
“Dead to Me” (Netflix)
“The Flight Attendant” (HBO Max)
“The Great” (Hulu)
“Schitt’s Creek” (Pop)
“Ted Lasso” (Apple TV+)

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Drama Series
Jason Bateman (“Ozark”)
Sterling K. Brown (“This Is Us”)
Josh O’Connor (“The Crown”)
Bob Odenkirk (“Better Call Saul”)
Regé-Jean Page (“Bridgerton”)

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Drama Series
Gillian Anderson (“The Crown”)
Olivia Colman (“The Crown”)
Emma Corrin (“The Crown”)
Julia Garner (“Ozark”)
Laura Linney (“Ozark”)

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Comedy Series
Nicholas Hoult (“The Great”)
Dan Levy (“Schitt’s Creek”)
Eugene Levy (“Schitt’s Creek”)
Jason Sudeikis (“Ted Lasso”)
Ramy Youssef (“Ramy”)

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Comedy Series
Christina Applegate (“Dead to Me”)
Linda Cardellini (“Dead to Me”)
Kaley Cuoco (“The Flight Attendant”)
Annie Murphy (“Schitt’s Creek”)
Catherine O’Hara (“Schitt’s Creek”)

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Television Movie or Miniseries
Bill Camp (“The Queen’s Gambit”)
Daveed Diggs (“Hamilton”)
Hugh Grant (“The Undoing”)
Ethan Hawke (“The Good Lord Bird”)
Mark Ruffalo (“I Know This Much Is True”)

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Television Movie or Miniseries
Cate Blanchett (“Mrs. America”)
Michaela Coel (“I May Destroy You”)
Nicole Kidman (“The Undoing”)
Anya Taylor-Joy (“The Queen’s Gambit”)
Kerry Washington (“Little Fires Everywhere”)

Outstanding Action Performance by a Stunt Ensemble in a Comedy or Drama Series
“The Boys”
“Cobra Kai”
“Lovecraft Country”
“The Mandalorian”
“Westworld”

Chadwick Boseman dead at 43; acclaimed star of ‘Black Panther’ battled colon cancer

August 28, 2020

by Carla Hay

Chadwick Boseman (Photo courtesy of ABC/Image Group LA) 

Chadwick Boseman, the charismatic and critically acclaimed actor who starred in the 2018 blockbuster “Black Panther,” died of colon cancer at his Los Angeles home on August 28, 2020. He was 43. In a public statement issued by his family, Boseman had been diagnosed with cancer in 2016, but he never revealed this diagnosis to the public, according to the Associated Press.

In addition to starring in “Black Panther,” Boseman had roles in other Marvel superhero movies such as 2016’s “Captain America: Civil War,” 2018’s “Avengers: Infinity War” and 2019’s “Avengers: Endgame.” He also starred as several African American icons in biopics, such as baseball player Jackie Robinson in the 2013 movie “42,” singer James Brown in 2014’s “Get on Up” and Thurgood Marshall in 2017’s “Marshall.” He also starred in the cop drama “21 Bridges,” which was his first movie in which he was a producer. Boseman’s last two film roles were for Netflix: He portrayed a Vietnam War soldier in the 2020 drama “Da 5 Bloods” (directed and co-written by Spike Lee) and co-starred with Viola Davis in the drama “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” which does not have a release date yet.

Born on November 29, 1976, in Anderson, South Carolina, Boseman graduated from Howard University in 2000, with a bachelor of fine arts degree in directing. Two important mentors he had during his college years were Oscar-winning actor Denzel Washington (who reportedly paid for Boseman’s college tuition) and actress Phylicia Rashad, who was one of his teachers at Howard. Boseman was also a graduate of Digital Film Academy and aspired to be a director.

Boseman made his film debut in 2008’s “The Express.” Before getting starring roles movies, he had roles in TV shows and in theater, most notably in the 2010 short-lived NBC series “Persons Unknown” and in a recurring role in 2008 and 2009 in the ABC Family series “Lincoln Heights,” which was on the air from 2007 to 2010. But he was best known for playing African king superhero T’Challa in “Black Panther,” which was the second highest-grossing film of 2018 in the world (with $1.3 billion in ticket sales), second to “Avengers: Infinity War,” which had worldwide ticket sales of $2 billion. Of the $1.3 billion that “Black Panther” had in worldwide ticket sales, $700 million were ticket sales in the U.S., making “Black Panther” the highest-grossing film in the U.S. in 2018.

“Black Panther” won numerous awards, including three Oscars: for costume design, production design and original score. Boseman and the rest of “Black Panther” stars won the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding by a Cast in a Motion Picture, and the movie won several NAACP Image Awards. A sequel to “Black Panther” had been announced to be released in 2022, but had not begun filming at the time that Boseman passed away. As of now, it’s unclear what will happen to the movie because of Boseman’s death. Also in limbo is the movie “Yasuke,” in which Boseman had the title role, but the movie hadn’t begun filming at the time of his death.

The Boseman family statement says: “A true fighter, Chadwick persevered through it all, and brought you many of the films you have come to love so much. From ‘Marshall’ to ‘Da 5 Bloods,’ August Wilson’s ‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom’ and several more—all were filmed during and between countless surgeries and chemotherapy. It was the honor of his career to bring King T’Challa to life in ‘Black Panther.’”

Boseman is survived by his wife Taylor Simone Ledward and his parents Leroy and Karen Boseman.

Review: ‘Da 5 Bloods,’ starring Delroy Lindo, Jonathan Majors, Clarke Peters, Norm Lewis, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Chadwick Boseman and Mélanie Thierry

June 12, 2020

by Carla Hay

Isiah Whitlock Jr., Norm Lewis, Delroy Lindo, Clarke Peters and Jonathan Majors in “Da 5 Bloods” (Photo courtesy of Netflix)

“Da 5 Bloods”

Directed by Spike Lee

Culture Representation: Taking place mostly in Vietnam, the drama “Da 5 Bloods” has a racially diverse cast (African American, Asian and white) portraying the middle-class and criminal underground.

Culture Clash: Four African American men who are Vietnam War veterans return to Vietnam with one of the men’s sons to find a hidden stash of gold bars, and they confront issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), loyalty, greed and the cultural wounds left by the war.

Culture Audience: “Da 5 Bloods” will appeal primarily to people who like well-acted dramas about friendships bound by trauma, but sensitive viewers might be disturbed by the film’s significant level of bloody violence.

Johnny Trí Nguyên, Clarke Peters and Delroy Lindo in “Da 5 Bloods” (Photo by David Lee/Netflix)

Spike Lee’s sprawling epic drama “Da 5 Bloods” takes viewers on a thrilling, heartbreaking and absorbing ride that will reel you in, shake you up, and leave you feeling uplifted and solemn at the same time by the end of the movie. Simply put: “Da 5 Bloods” is one of writer/director Lee’s best films of the 21st century. Delroy Lindo gives a masterful performance that will stay with people long after watching “Da 5 Bloods.”

The plot to “Da 5 Bloods” is pretty simple, but there are many complexities that weave the story together. It’s the type of movie that people might feel compelled to see more than once to revisit all the story’s layers. The movie clocks in at 155 minutes (or two hours and 35 minutes), but every minute is worth it.

In “Da 5 Bloods,” four African American men who were Army buddies in the Vietnam War return to Vietnam to find the hidden treasure they left behind back in 1971—a safe filled with gold bars that they were entrusted to deliver on behalf of the U.S. government but the pals decided to keep the gold for themselves. The safe got lost in a plane crash and a mudslide, but there’s a chance that they could find the gold again.

The four men are Paul (played by Lindo), a politically conservative curmudgeon who’s suffering from PTSD and refuses to get treatment for it; Otis (played by Clarke Peters), a friendly medic who has a possible addiction to Oxycontin pills; Melvin (played by Isiah Whitlock Jr.), a fun-loving jokester who’s married but has an eye for other women; and Eddie (played by Norm Lewis), a well-to-do businessman who’s made his money through several car dealerships.

All four men are haunted by the Vietnam War death of their squad leader Stormin’ Norman (played by Chadwick Boseman, who appears in the movie’s flashback scenes), who was the fifth member of their group and the one who inspired them the most. The five men called themselves Da 5 Bloods. The surviving members all say that they have dreams about Stormin’ Norman, who died a hero in the plane crash. The four surviving members of the group are hoping to find the remains of Stormin’ Norman, so that he can get a proper burial.

Soon after they arrive at their hotel in Ho Chi Minh City, it’s clear that Paul is the most emotionally volatile one of the group. He makes racist and dismissive comments about the local Vietnamese people, and he has a quick temper. While having dinner at the hotel, a boy with one leg wanders in and goes over to their table to beg for money. Paul tries to shoo the boy away, but Otis compassionately gives $20 to the boy.

Paul, who is a unabashed supporter of Donald Trump, gripes: “It’s time we got those freeloading immigrants off of our backs and build that wall.” Otis, Eddie and Melvin don’t like Trump at all, but their political differences with Paul don’t drive a wedge between the four friends. Paul likes to wears a red Make America Great Again baseball cap (which was the Trump campaign’s signature apparel item for the 2016 U.S. presidential election), and that cap is used as a metaphor in different parts of the story.

After the four friends spend the night partying at a nightclub and drinking at a bar, Paul goes back to his hotel room to find a surprise: His son David (played by Jonathan Majors), an African American studies teacher, has unexpectedly shown up, and Paul is furious about it. Paul makes it clear that not only does he not want David there, but he also doesn’t want David in his life at all.

“You ain’t been nothing but an anchor around my neck since the day you were born,” Paul cruelly tells David. Why does Paul dislike David so much? That answer is revealed later in the movie. Majors gives an outstanding performance as David, who is desperate for his father’s love but is trying to hold on to his masculine dignity in seeking his dad’s love and approval.

Even though Paul doesn’t seem to want anything to do with his son, David isn’t going to leave. David tells Paul that he found out about the treasure hunt and that he wants to help. As the story unfolds, it’s clear that for David, this trip isn’t about finding the gold. It’s about trying to connect with his father, who goes out of his way to express his animosity toward David. This stressful father-son relationship is truly one of the most compelling aspects of “Da 5 Bloods,” and it will leave many viewers in tears during certain scenes.

Meanwhile, Otis has taken on the role of a surrogate father figure to David, as well as the group’s peacemaker when conflicts inevitably happen. Otis is also the one who leads the planning of the treasure hunt, since he has figured out the coordinates of where the plane might be, based on satellite photos.

Otis has enlisted the help of an ex-lover named Tiên (played by Lê Y Lan), a former prostitute who now works in international exports. Tiên has assisted Otis in arranging a meeting with one of her contacts: a shady businessman named Desroche (played by Jean Reno), who promises that he can give the treasure hunters a way to convert the gold to American funds without them getting caught. In exchange, Desroche will get a percentage of the money as his fee.

It’s a deal that has to be made on trust, because none of Da 5 Bloods knows Desroche personally, since he was recommended by Tiên. Paul is the most suspicious of Desroche, because he thinks it’s possible that Desroche will try to double-cross them and steal the money for himself. Paul also tells Otis that he doesn’t really trust Tiên either. During an argument with Otis, Paul also accuses Otis of the possibility that Otis and Tiên are secretly in cahoots with each other to steal the money.

And what about that gold treasure? A flashback scene shows when Da 5 Bloods decided to keep the gold, Stormin’ Norman made a pledge to donate the money to the Black Liberation movement: “We repossess this gold for every black boot that never made it home, for every brother and sister stolen from mother Africa to Jamestown, Virginia, way back in 1619.”

“Da 5 Bloods” makes an unusual and bold artistic move for the flashback scenes. Instead of having younger actors portraying the young Paul, Otis, Melvin and Eddie, the movie keeps the same actors for these roles in which they have to portray the characters as their younger selves. There are also no visual effects that de-age the actors in the flashback scenes. By not changing the physical age of the actors in the flashback scenes, it actually creates the sense that although they have physically aged when they remember this time in their lives, there’s a part of them that is still mentally trapped in their Vietnam War days.

But in the present day, the surviving members of the group have mixed feelings about that pledge. Paul is the one who unapologetically says that he wants to keep his share of the money for himself, while Eddie still wants to hold true to the promise that they made with Stormin’ Norman to donate the money toward causes that empower African Americans. The dilemma of greed versus philanthropy causes major friction with the characters during different parts of the story. If people want to read more into it, the gold and what to do with it are metaphors for the conflicting ideals of capitalism and socialism.

Before their big trip to the jungle, the five men spend some time in a restaurant/bar. While there, David meets a French woman named Hedy Bouvier (played by Mélanie Thierry), who works for nonprofit organization called Love Against Mines and Bombs (LAMB). As part of her job, she looks for old land mines and detonates them. Two of her co-workers—an American named Scott (played by Paul Walter Hauser) and a Finnish man named Seppo (played by Jasper Pääkkönen)—are also in the bar.

David and Hedy are immediately attracted to each other and they begin flirting and talking about their lives. Hedy says that she and Seppo “occasionally use each other for sex,” but she makes it clear that she’s single and available. And so is David.

For the treasure hunters’ trip to the jungle, they have a local guide named Vinh Tran (played by Johnny Trí Nguyên), who is easygoing and knowledgeable, but  Vinh isn’t told the real reason for the trip. During a boat ride, a middle-aged Vietnamese man tries to sell Paul a live chickens and refuses to take no for answer. Paul gets so angry that he begins yelling and threatening the man, who accuses Paul of killing his parents because African American men in Vietnam are assumed to be American military men.

The accusation triggers Paul into an emotional meltdown, where his PTSD is on full display. It’s during this breakdown that he confesses that his dreams about Stormin’ Norman are really nightmares. There are several scenes in “Da 5 Bloods” that are disturbing close-ups of Paul’s mental deterioration. And his relationship with estranged son David also takes viewers on an emotional roller coaster.

One of the striking technical aspects of “Da 5 Bloods” is how the flashback scenes are filmed by cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel. The scenes are shot as if they’re news film from the late 1960s/early 1970s, with 16mm and 4:3 aspect ratio. When the movie switches back to the present day, the scenes are in 2:40 aspect ratio before they go to the jungle. And for the scenes in the jungle, the film is in a 1:85 aspect ratio, to portray an environment which is wide open to the possibilities of the unknown.

It wouldn’t be a Spike Lee film without social commentary as part of the story. Lee and Kevin Willmott (who both won adapted screenplay Oscars for “BlacKkKlansman”) wrote “Da 5 Bloods” screenplay with Danny Bilson and Paul DeMeo. The movie has plenty to say about race relations, colonialism and civil rights, not just in the United States but also in Vietnam.

“Da 5 Bloods” also makes blistering observations about how the Vietnam War was the first American war fought with a fully racially integrated military, which meant that more African Americans were on the front lines to die, compared to previous American wars. And although Vietnam War veterans of all races experienced divisive and painful reactions when they returned home, African American veterans had the added burden of racism in trying to adjust back to civilian society.

Throughout the film, there are snippets of African American history lessons to put much of the movie’s story in context. The beginning of the film opens with a montage of archival footage of Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X, Angela Davis and Bobby Seale talking about the Vietnam War and/or the American government. And there’s mention of war hero Milton Olive III (who died in 1965 at the age of 18),  the first African American man to be award the Medal of Honor for the Vietnam War.

Lee’s best movies are known for their memorable soundtracks. “Da 5 Bloods” is no exception. Marvin Gaye’s classic 1971 album “What’s Going On” is prominently featured. And so is the Chambers Brothers’ “Time Has Come Today,” which seems to be a staple in movies that have themes of African American empowerment, just like the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” seems to be in a lot of mobster movies. Music composer Terence Blanchard, a longtime collaborator of Lee’s, once again does a great score that enhances the essence of each scene.

“Da 5 Bloods” also includes striking and often brutal archival photos and videos to show the horrors and controversies of the Vietnam War, such as the American protests against the war; combat footage; and disturbing photos of people being murdered and children’s bloody corpses. The last half of the film, which primarily takes place in the jungle, is especially gruesome with gun shootouts and other bloody mayhem.

However, whatever violence is in the film is a manifestation of the emotional horrors the characters feel in trying to face personal demons. That psychological turmoil is the biggest gut-punch in “Da 5 Bloods.” People can try to avoid bullets and bombs, but they can’t run away from themselves.

Netflix premiered “Da 5 Bloods” on June 12, 2020.

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