Monday, December 28, 2020

Chadwick Boseman and That “Heavenly Light”

Bathed in “heavenly light” or not, Chadwick Boseman’s
last scene in Da 5 Bloods embodies divine love.

My friend Deandre and I recently watched Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods on Netflix. It’s a powerful, relevant film, and one I highly recommend.

It’s also the second-last film that the late Chadwick Boseman made. (He would go on to act in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, released posthumously earlier this month.) Boseman died from colon cancer four months ago today. In Da 5 Bloods, which came out this past summer, he plays the divine-like character of “Stormin’” Norman, referred to by his four army buddies as Norm. Together, the five black Vietnam War soldiers are the “5 bloods” of the movie’s title.

In explaining why he cast Boseman in his film’s pivotal role, Lee made references to Boseman’s previous portrayals of strong, inspirational black men: “This character is heroic; he’s a superhero. Who do we cast? We cast Jackie Robinson, James Brown, Thurgood Marshall, and we cast T’Challa.”

Writes Rohan Naahar about Boseman’s role:

Chadwick Boseman plays the fifth “blood,” the fallen “Stormin’” Norman, opposite a central cast that includes veteran character actors Delroy Lindo, Clarke Peters, Norm Lewis and Isiah Whitlock Jr. Norm is described by his old friends as “our Malcolm and our Martin” – it was Norm who suggested that they use the discovered treasure to help their community back home; to treat it as the reparations that they are owed. And Boseman delivers a performance befitting a movie star.

If you haven’t seen Da 5 Bloods yet, you may want to stop reading as I’m going to discuss and show the film’s final scene featuring Boseman.

It is, without doubt, an incredibly powerful scene, one that depicts the long-dead Norm appearing to his army buddy Paul (Delroy Lindo) so that together they can “come clean” about how Norm’s death was brought about by “friendly fire” from Paul . . . and so that Norm can tell Paul that it’s now time for him to let go of his guilt and grief about this tragic accident. Why? Because Norm loves and forgives him. “God is love,” Norm tells Paul, and “love is God.”

Yes, Boseman’s character truly is “divine-like”!

In an interview earlier this year with Variety, Lee said that although he did not know Boseman was sick during Da 5 Bloods’ filming, he was aware that he did not look well. He put this down to the strenuous shoot – jungle scenes in Thailand in 100 degrees heat and “the worst air pollution in the world” in Ho Chi Minh City.

Lee also talked about Boseman’s last scene in Da 5 Bloods, the one I describe above and in which Boseman’s character appears bathed in light. Lee said that he felt it was actually “God’s heavenly light.” Here’s more of what he told Variety:

I felt it when we shot it. It was God’s heavenly light. We didn’t have light. You know, Delroy [Lindo] is talking to the camera, talking about his conversation with God? We go up, and we come down and we find this heavenly light. It’s Chadwick standing in that light, in that pose. That was God up there. I don’t care what nobody says. That was God’s heavenly light, because that scene’s not lit. That’s natural light. And that was God sending heavenly light on Chadwick.

I don’t know if this light was “God’s heavenly light” as understood by Spike Lee. For me, all light, being part of creation, is God’s light. That’s actually enough for me.

Also, I’m sure that the use of natural light in the filming of this scene was inspired in that wonderful on-the-spot way by which so many creative works come into being. I don’t doubt that there’s always something of the divine presence, the ultimate creator, in every type of creative process.

And then, of course, there’s the way Chadwick’s character embodies divine love and forgiveness. With or without the physical lighting of this scene, the beauty and power of this love and forgiveness shines through, thanks in large part to the giftedness of Chadwick as an actor and to who he was as a human being. You see, by all accounts, Chadwick Boseman was a man very much open to the divine, to being an embodiment of the divine light in the world. He was, after all, a man of integrity, humility, and compassion.

For me, any “heavenly light” in Chadwick Boseman’s final scene in Da 5 Bloods emanates from Chadwick himself, from the culmination of a lifetime of daily “yes”-es to the divine to guide and inspire all his actions of body, speech and mind. In that one powerful scene, we are gifted not only with a very clear and beautiful reminder of Chadwick’s life of openness to the divine, but also with an invitation to do likewise; to embody the divine in our own lives.

Personally, I think of this reminder and invitation as comprising a beautiful parting gift from Chadwick. One for which I am very grateful.

NEXT: In This Time Marked By Grief

Related Off-site Links:
A Da 5 Bloods Actor Has a Heartbreaking Story About Working Alongside Chadwick Boseman – Matt Prigge (UpRoxx, September 2, 2020).
Chadwick Boseman in His Own Words – James Doubek (NPR News, August 30, 2020).
How Chadwick Boseman’s Humility Made Him a Star – Matthew Jacobs (The Huffington Post, September 2, 2020).
Chadwick Boseman: The Lasting Impact of a Life Well-Lived – Tiffany Johnson (Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder, September 3, 2020).
Remembering the Joy, Strength and Inspiration of Chadwick Boseman – Moira Macdonald (Seattle Times, September 13, 2020).
Sienna Miller Says Chadwick Boseman Gave Her Some of His Salary on 21 Bridges So She Could Be Paid Fairly For the Movie – Jason Guerrasio (Insider, September 28, 2020).
“A Man With a Purpose”: Chadwick Boseman’s Life’s Work Is Far From Over – Kate Storey (Esquire, October 6, 2020).
Spike Lee on Chadwick Boseman in Da 5 Bloods: “If I Had Known, I Wouldn't Have Made Him Do the Stuff”Shadow and Act (October 7, 2020).
Could Chadwick Boseman Be the First Person to Earn Two Posthumous Oscar Acting Nominations in Same Year? – Clayton David (Variety, October 15, 2020).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Chadwick Boseman’s Final Film Role: “A Reed Instrument for Every Painful Emotion”
Boseman on Wilson
Remembering Chadwick Boseman
Honoring An Icon
Chadwick Boseman’s Timeless Message to Young Voters: “You Can Turn Our Nation Around”
The Important Cultural Moment That Is Black Panther
Celebrating Black Panther – Then and Now
“Avengers Assemble!”
Jason Johnson on Stan Lee's Revolutionary Legacy
Another First for Black Panther
“Something Special,” Indeed!
Queer Black Panther

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