The Oscar-winning filmmaker joins EW's Awardist series for an in-depth look at his new film and his distinguished career.

By David Canfield
January 21, 2021 at 02:00 PM EST
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It feels appropriate — assumed, even — that we're talking about Spike Lee's new movie in the context of the Oscars. That he'd be, to get a little meta, one of our guests for our Awardist video series. Consider the stats: Lee's last narrative feature, BlacKkKlansman, won him the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay; his decades-long career has established him as one of the most revered filmmakers around the world; and the project in question, Da 5 Bloods, earned him some of the best reviews of his career. Obvious contender, right?

In reality, this is all pretty new for Lee. After earning a screenplay nom for his breakout 1989 classic Do the Right Thing, Lee experienced nearly 30 years without a nomination, save for his acclaimed 1997 documentary 4 Little Girls. Across his illustrious filmography, you could safely say he's been significantly under-recognized by the Academy.

"It's been very good," he says with a smile of his films now receiving awards attention. "But what [the change] demonstrates is that...there's a difference in the membership of Academy voters. Very few of the same people voting back for the films that came on 1989 are still voting [now]." (He's not wrong.)

Check out more from EW's The Awardist, featuring exclusive interviews, analysis, and our podcast diving into all the highlights from the year's best films.

Credit: DAVID LEE /NETFLIX

Da 5 Bloods reunites Lee with past collaborators including Delroy Lindo, Clarke Peters, and Isiah Whitlock, Jr. They along with Norm Lewis star as a group of Vietnam War veterans themselves reuniting later in age, as they return to the jungle in search of treasure and lost loves, but where haunting memories and horrible traumas lurk, too. It's shaping into another major Oscar player for Lee, with Lindo looking like a safe bet for a Best Actor nomination and Lee competitive in directing and screenplay races. (He wrote the script with Danny Bilson, Paul De Meo, and Kevin Willmott.)

Released in June, at a time of profound national unrest, the movie's resonance was greater than Lee could've expected; especially since it marked his Netflix original debut, instantly getting streamed in the homes of millions. The film also debuted a few months before the tragic death of its scene-stealing costar Chadwick Boseman, who in flashbacks and dream sequences plays the old squad's fallen leader. (Boseman posthumously won the New York Film Critics' Circle Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance.)

Lee and his wife, Tonya Lewis Lee, rewatched Da 5 Bloods the day after Boseman's passing in late August, and were particularly struck by a scene late in the film in which Lindo's PTSD-afflicted vet "meets" Boseman in a jungle clearing. "It was many words: raw, sad, happiness, elation, all those words that you might think don't get along," Lee reflects. "But those are feelings that Tonya and I felt."

Watch Lee's full Awardist interview above. Da 5 Bloods is now streaming on Netflix.

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