THERE IS no need to repeat the famous quote from The Greatest. Muhammad Ali’s refusal to fight in the Vietnam war was a bloody, brutal round in his hardest and longest fight; The fight for Civil Rights of African Americans.
Spike Lee’s new Netflix blockbuster ‘Da 5 Bloods’ explores some of those black soldiers’ stories on the other side of the war.
Those that have been forgotten. The veterans who walk the US today waiting for the hero’s welcome they were promised.
It follows four veterans who return to Vietnam to find the remains of the fifth blood.
Released two weeks ago at the time of mass protest across the world over the killing of George Floyd. I mention to Lindo that the film has arrived at an appropriate time and he remarks “Yes. I mean there’s no way that we could have foreseen this, the film was always scheduled for that date and the context that it has found itself released into is staggering, it only heightens the impact of the film, which of course is a good thing.”
Lindo plays Paul in the film, an unhinged veteran who volunteered for the War, and completed three tours. Lindo drops an Oscar worthy performance in one of the most captivating of his career.
Intense in his every move, creating a complex and sometimes confusing character who by the way also wears a MAGA hat and voted for Trump in 2016.
Speaking with Lindo, I ask of his British roots. (He was born in Eltham, London to Jamaican parents) He tells me that his mother was part of the Windrush generation and that is why he was here.
He moved away in his teenage years but has travelled back and forth in that time. In 2010, Lindo returned for a stint on the West End, David Lan’s production of Joe Turner at the Young Vic Theatre in London.
I ask Lindo if he noticed any considerable cultural change in Britain, in terms of race relations, in the 30 plus years he was absent.
“It’s a great question, so the first thing I would say is that some things were startlingly the same, London had become this cosmopolitan place, and it’s funny, the biggest change I immediately noticed was there were so many black and foreign players playing soccer.
“I’m a huge UK soccer fan I think it’s phenomenal, and when I was growing up the only black player at that time was a guy called Albert Johannesen who was from South Africa, he played for Leeds and was the first African to win the FA Cup, so coming back to all these young black players that was a welcome change.”
Before I can mention it, Lindo wades in on the black managers debate and says: ‘You know who they are calling a BLACK manager? Nuno. Does he identify as black? No, it comes back to this problematic term of BAME and that’s why I say some things were startingly the same.”
Back to the film and Lindo says he found it hard to play a trump supporter due to not wanting to set a bad example for his son, he says: “I texted Spike and asked him if he could reconsider, I had a hard time getting my head around it, he texted me a couple days later and said, ‘I really need Paul to be a trump guy’.
“I empathized with him the more I grew to know him, I understood the mindset that had led him to cast the vote for that individual, and it embodies a lot of what Vietnam vets feel like”.
I ask him to elaborate and if Paul Is looking to recapture a sense of belonging that he and thousands of black soldiers thought they would finally achieve post-Vietnam, after serving America
He says: “Well Paul is different, Paul volunteered and did three tours, he was clearly his happiest in the war, and since the war, like a lot of soldiers, they have been labelled baby killers and my own cousin was one of those, and I know how much that affected him, I don’t know if a sense of belonging is the right word, but there is certainly a massive sense of unbelonging, felt by a lot of Vietnam veterans.”
The film features, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Trayvon Martin and other significant moments and figures in the civil rights movement, including topically, the BLM movement being born.
I mention this to Lindo and the significance of George Floyd, if the film hadn’t been made yet, he would have been on it, he says: “I feel like we could be seeing the genesis of real change in the culture, this is a story of a betrayal, a betrayal of veterans, a betrayal of black people, a betrayal of promise. It’s a tale of loss and sorrow.”
The film feels like It personifies the feelings of Muhammad Ali into a cinematic experience that goes beyond that quote and tells one of the great unheard truths of the world; the story of the black soldiers in Vietnam.