Spike Lee’s latest war film ‘Da 5 Bloods’ is bold in its delivery, connecting the atrocities of the past to the present, in the form of a shared friendship between a group of Vietnam veterans. At times heartwrenching, the poison of war and racism that bleeds through the movie is mollified by the theme of brotherhood that lays at the story’s heart. Capturing Chadwick Boseman in one of his last and perhaps greatest on-screen roles, as Norman, the movie is not only an homage to his talents as an actor but also to the contents of his soul as a person.
Perhaps best known for his role as T’challa in the billion-dollar MCU franchise, Boseman wowed and inspired audiences with the prowess and grace that he brought to the role. ‘Wakanda Forever’ became a rallying cry across the world, signifying black strength, empowerment, and unity. Boseman, himself pouring so much into the role, working ceaselessly to manifest the world of Wakanda to the big screen, all the while undergoing numerous treatments and surgeries. Black Panther gave the black diaspora hope and pride, something Boseman always embodied. He injected his essence into the role in a way that touched audiences worldwide and made the fictional a reality. Although the role came fairly late in Boseman’s life, his incredible light and magnitude shine even brighter in his performance than ever before.
Now in Spike’s new film, Chadwick plays Norman, a fellow Vietnam soldier and member of the Bloods. He’s also playing the only character that is deceased throughout the entirety of the movie. Yet Boseman’s character’s presence looms large over the film. Norman’s role and meaning to the other men help to contextualize the movie itself, fleshing out the perspectives and the motives of each of the men as they embark on their dangerous mission. Chadwick brings an intensity and assertiveness to the role that poignantly expresses the deep frustrations felt by the thousands of black soldiers who’d been shipped off to fight in a war for a country that was constantly at war with their own people. At the beginning of the film, Norman’s presence is as acidic and sharp, as the racism that is quickly gnawing at his sanity and humanity. Norman explains to his fellow Bloods that money is both the cause and fuel of all wars. It’s both a cautionary tale and futuristic insight into what’s to come. Acknowledging both the past atrocities that have been committed against Black people in America, as well as the atrocities being ravaged upon the Vietnamese people, he sees the money for what it is-sinful. But also knows taking their reparations forcefully will be the only way the U.S. will ever pay for the destruction caused.
A leader and voice of reason, at the height of Paul’s emotional catharsis, Norman appears offering him forgiveness and peace. The trauma and pain that had once tortured Paul seem to dissipate, now free of the heavy burdens of his past. It is in this scene that Chadwick truly brings both Norman and Paul to life. Heavy with the pain of goodbyes, guilt, and trauma, Boseman masterfully handles the scene, giving reverence and peace to Norman’s character. There is an unspoken pain conveyed to audiences. The pain of the end, of not having had the chance to see everything through, which for current audiences resonates far too deeply. Yet, Boseman’s goodbye still manages to spark light, and hope in viewers as much as it does for Paul. His words resonate strength and signify an oncoming renewal. Not just for within ourselves, but also for what the world could be. Which is certainly something Chadwick strove for throughout his life.