How Netflix is selling the latest Spike Lee Joint.
Chadwick Boseman, Delroy Lindo and a host of other talent all star in this week’s Da 5 Bloods, the new film from director Spike Lee debuting on Netflix. The story focuses on a group of Vietnam War veterans who return to that country to search for the remains of one of their fallen comrades as well as the treasure they left buried there decades ago.
Of course this being a Spike Lee Joint, the story is likely only a framework on which to examine issues of race and justice in America and the world as a whole, something he has done throughout his career to great effect. That’s part of the allure of his films, along with the masterful way he crafts narratives and directs actors to some of their all-time best performances.
Netflix’s campaign for the movie culminates at a time when the U.S. might finally be having the hard conversations about race that have been tabled for centuries.
A crying black face wearing an Army helmet is depicted on the first poster (by marketing agency Gravillis Inc.). That poster, released in early May, uses a simple image to convey a great deal of the story’s tone as well as the upcoming release date.
A similar image is changed a bit on the second poster that came out just a short while later. This time the four main characters can be seen raising their fists defiantly from the helmet of the soldier while bombs with the face of Richard Nixon painted on them fall from above and a couple slogans are painted on the wall behind them.
There’s more imagery, some of it variations on what’s been used previously, on the next poster from later in May. New here is a colorful background as well as an illustration of black protesters marching with signs showing the black power fist being raised or declaring “I am a man.”
That same fist is the main element on the final poster, released in early June. This time it, not a face, is seen under the helmet, symbolizing the how the civil rights movement was expected to give way to the more important military effort but still existed within it and as part of that. The “Our fight is not in Vietnam” slogan shown here reinforces that idea while the faux folds in the design make it seem like this was a propaganda poster pulled out from storage for display.
The movie’s one trailer (1 million views on YouTube) came out in mid-May and immediately sets the tone by showing Hanoi Hannah reading a message to black U.S. troops asking them if they know what they’ve been (disproportionally) sent to Vietnam to fight and die for. As “Time Has Come Today” by The Chambers Brothers plays we see the former soldiers struggling with their return to the country where they experienced so much pain, searching for their fallen comrade along with the hidden gold they left there. There are flashbacks – presented in a different aspect ratio and with the look of different film stock – of them as younger men as well as actual historical footage of protests, politics and more from that period. It’s chaotic but clear and promises yet another masterstroke of filmmaking from Lee.
Online and Social
Nothing here, but Netflix did give the movie a good amount of promotion on its brand profiles.
Advertising and Promotions
Lee announced a June release date just a couple months ago.
More of the movie’s story is on display in a short TV spot-like video released in early June. You get the basic plot outlines and what the mission these men are embarking on is made clear, adding up to a strong spot.
Netflix also seized the cultural moment we’re all living through to offer something that is relatively rare on the service, a curated collection of films. In this case it’s a “Black Lives Matter” list of titles that offer a number of movies, series and documentaries touching on the black experience, by black filmmakers and so on.
In addition to the soundtrack by composer Terence Blanchard being available, Spotify offered a playlist of songs Lee used as inspiration or which were otherwise important to him, with commentary from the director sprinkled in touching on how the songs related to the movie.
Media and Press
Boseman spoke briefly about the movie while promoting other projects late last year.
In May the first look at stills from the film was offered along with comments about the story and more from Lee.
A profile of Lee in late May included a number of tidbits about the film, from the fact he wasn’t using any de-aging technology for the flashbacks to the wide range of political opinions the story’s characters would represent. In another interview with Lee he talked about how this film continues his career-long focus on racial issues and the inequality that pervades throughout society, something that hasn’t improved in the decades since his first film.
If the campaign accomplishes anything – at least anything outside of creating a desire to see the movie – it will likely be to create more awareness of how the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement were intertwined and influenced by each other. That, to be transparent, is something I wasn’t fully cognizant of myself until the movie sent me down a research path.
To that end, Netflix’s marketing shows that once again Lee is using the power of the moving image to make sure audiences understand the past isn’t dead but still alive in the present. His mixing of new footage with news clips is something he’s done to great effect in movies like BlackKKKlansman and Malcolm X. It’s even on display in a short video created by Lee – not tied directly to this movie but certainly relevant and consistent with the topics he’s regularly addressed – showing the tragic similarities between the fates of George Floyd and Eric Garner and what happens to the character Radio Raheem in Do The Right Thing.
The timing of the film, while entirely coincidental, means it’s inescapable how vitale and relevant the story and the issues it addresses remain. And the elements of the marketing make it a must-see for anyone who’s been a fan of Lee’s previous films.
Picking Up the Spare
More from Lee here on crafting the story, including his inclusion of characters that don’t match preconceived notions and more. Lee was also interviewed via video on “The Tonight Show” and again on “The Daily Show.”
That political diversity is covered by Lindo in an interview where he talks about working with Lee and more.
A couple new clips were released just before the movie hit Netflix.
On release date, Netflix bought a Twitter Promoted Trend to raise awareness of the film.
Composer Terence Blanchard, who also offers commentary on the movie’s Spotify playlist, talks here about creating the film’s musical elements. Cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel also spoke about working with Lee to create the film’s look and the difficulties of the location shooting.
The movie’s journey to the big screen was not always a straight line.
Netflix has put out a number of video interviews with the cast where they shared what it’s like to be picked by Lee for a particular role. Majors also talked about how Lee helped him prepare for his character.