Producer Jon Kilik has been working with director Spike Lee for more than three decades, going all the way back to the filmmaker’s landmark drama “Do the Right Thing” (1989). But their latest collaboration, “Da 5 Bloods,” took them overseas, filming in Vietnam and Thailand to tell the story of Black veterans of the Vietnam War returning to the country to take care of some unfinished business. For Kilik, it was a departure from Lee’s previous films in terms of the challenges of shooting on location, but artistically it’s of a piece with the rest of the director’s work. Watch our exclusive video interview with Kilik above.
“This was a very challenging movie,” Kilik explains. “There’s a real physicality built into the script that we all participated in, the actors and the crew … We were in jungles and rivers and boats, up and down mountains in intense heat and very remote locations. So yeah, there’s a scale and physicality to the film that is quite different, but creatively it really is a similar approach to the way we always go about making our films.”
Kilik sees “a link throughout the body of work from ‘Do the Right Thing’ through ‘Da 5 Bloods'” in terms of the film’s “complex characters” and “deep and relevant conditions and situations that they’re working their way through with the audience.” This story of African-Americans processing grief, trauma, and often a feeling of being betrayed by their own country certainly fits in with Lee’s themes throughout his career, so while this production was “very different logistically … we’re trying to continue to tell a story that we’ve been working on for 30-plus years.”
“Da 5 Bloods” carries an additional emotional resonance as one of the last films of actor Chadwick Boseman before his death from cancer at the age of 43. He was ill while making this film, as he was while giving other memorable performances from “Black Panther” to “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” but no one on the “5 Bloods” set knew what he was struggling with.
“We’re all still in shock and so deeply saddened by it,” says Kilik. “The character [of fallen squad leader Stormin’ Norman] as written has this kind of iconic, mythic presence in the memory of these guys and Chadwick embodied that.” The actor “left us with this not only amazing body of work and incredible characters and stories that he told,” but he was also “a role model” with “incredible strength, humanity, kindness and generosity.”
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