“Da 5 Bloods” explores the consequences of what the Vietnamese characters call the American War. However, another ramification from the struggle involved Black Amerasians. During the conflict, African-American GI’s formed relationships with local Vietnamese women; some women worked as “bar girls” and others as sex workers in Saigon. The result of such a relationship plays out between Otis and Tiên (Lê Y. Lan) in Lee’s film. No longer a sex worker, Tiên now specializes in international exporting. When Otis visits her, he’s there partly for business—she knows a French money launderer (Jean Reno) who can convert the gold bars into cash—but he’s also arrived for the pleasure of sharing dinner with an old flame.
Unbeknownst to Otis, he and Tiên have a daughter named Michon (Sandy Hương Phạm). Tiên explains to him that other Vietnamese people made the pair into pariahs. The mother, for sleeping with the enemy, and the daughter for being half-Black. Through Otis and Michon, Lee explores the post-war fate of Black Amerasians—a Black experience defined by biraciality—as another type of treasure in “Da 5 Bloods”: reunification of father and daughter.
Amerasians were often derisively referred to as “children of the dust” or “half-breeds” in Indochina. Statistics for the number of offspring from GI’s remain unclear. But per Amerasians Without Borders, “it was estimated that there were about 25,000 to 30,000 Amerasians born within a 10 years period during the Vietnam War.” Faced with prejudice, some Amerasians became refugees during the “boat people” era (1975-95). They fled through the Vietnam Sea to surrounding countries like the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, etc. by way of crudely crafted boats. Many refugees did not survive the journey. Worst yet, the offspring of GI’s were not accepted by America either. “The care and welfare of these unfortunate children … has never been and is not now considered an area of government responsibility,” the U.S. Department of Defense explained in a 1970 statement. Nevertheless, in 1975 President Gerald Ford ordered Operation Babylift to evacuate orphaned children by helicopter so they might be adopted by American families. Some of these Vietnamese orphans were Amerasians abandoned by their now ostracized single mothers. Military Times explained, “In all, 2,547 children were rescued and adopted by families in the United States and allied countries.” Controversy remains over Operation Babylift, since some children were not orphans when evacuated. Finally in 1987, President Ronald Reagan signed the Amerasian Homecoming Act to allow Amerasians the right to immigrate into the U.S.
Though Michon and Tiên occupy a lavish home, adorned with a spacious living room with an opulent and colorful dining room overlooking the skyline of Ho Chi Minh City (formerly known as Saigon), their current status comes as a stroke of luck. The progeny of American GI’s and Vietnamese women who remained in the country often faced the prospects of a poor education and a limited financial future. In the Philippines, according to a study conducted by Dr. Peter Kutschera, Director of the Philippine Amerasian Research Institute, “We have a severely socioeconomically impaired population, especially among Africans, who contend with serious physical and mental stress issues, including homelessness, alcohol and drug abuse.”