Does it make any difference if politically conscious Black men kill us?
June 29, 2020 9:28 AM Subscribe
Viet Thanh Nguyen, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Sympathizer, reviews Spike Lee's new movie about the Vietnam War, "Da 5 Bloods", from a perspective rarely heard in America: a Vietnamese one.
“Da 5 Bloods” remains a “Vietnam War” movie about fighting an American dirty war again, except that it puts Black men in the spotlight and it eliminates the worst of the anti-Asian, Yellow Peril racism that characterizes the genre. What remains, however, is evidence that while Lee means well, he also does not know what to do with the Vietnamese except resort to guilty liberal feelings about them.On whose stories get to be told:
Being a victim, over and over again, besides being traumatic in real life, is really boring onscreen, and Lee understands that basing a Black story on such an experience is a losing proposition. His strategy in “Da 5 Bloods” echoes Francis Ford Coppola’s in “Apocalypse Now,” which he references often — reserve the starring role for American men who struggle with their own heart of darkness. In a brilliant performance, Lindo becomes a kind of Black Ahab, driven by demons until he meets his fate. “Da 5 Bloods” shows Black men as agents of their own destiny, capable of both heroism and horror, as we all are as human beings whose inhumanity is an inextricable part of ourselves. This complex subjectivity is what white Hollywood has mostly denied Black people, and it is what they deserve. But so do the Vietnamese, Laotians, Cambodians and Hmong.On this message not being a new one:
But don’t listen to me. Listen to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., whose important speech “Beyond Vietnam” is quoted at the film’s end. The fact that most Americans know “I Have a Dream” but not “Beyond Vietnam” is testimony to the depth of American propaganda, the willingness of Americans to want to feel good about the American Dream and their reluctance to confront the American Nightmare. In the American Nightmare, the severity of anti-Black racism is inseparable from the endurance of American imperialism. As King said, Black Americans were sent to “guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they had not found in southwest Georgia and East Harlem.” He condemned not just racism, but also capitalism, militarism, American imperialism, and the American war machine, “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.” In another speech, he demanded that we question our “whole society,” which means “ultimately coming to see that the problem of racism, the problem of economic exploitation, and the problem of war are all tied together.”On the importance of expanding American thinking and history beyond diversifying imperialist apologia:
But the true urgency here is not only for self-representation and the need to recognize ourselves so that others will recognize us, too. What is also crucial is the need to tell stories differently. “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house,” Audre Lorde once wrote, and indeed, a war story that repeats a purely American point of view will just help ensure that American wars continue, only with more diverse American soldiers and ever-newer targets to be killed or saved. What kind of war story sees through the other’s point of view, hears her questions, takes seriously her assessment of ourselves? Would it even be a war story? And isn’t that the story we should tell?[Viet Thanh Nguyen previously]