A black soldier is killed while returning to his base in the deep south. The white people of the area are suspected at first. A tough black army attorney is brought in to find out the truth. We find out a bit more about the dead soldier in flashbacks – and that he was unpopular. Will the attorney find the killer.
A Soldier’s Story is a 1984 American drama film directed by Norman Jewison, based upon Charles Fuller’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Off Broadway production A Soldier’s Play. A black officer is sent to investigate the murder of a black sergeant in Louisiana near the end of World War II. It is a story about racism in a segregated regiment of the U.S Army commanded by white officers and training in the Jim Crow South, in a time and place where a black officer is unprecedented and bitterly resented by nearly everyone.
The film was first shown at the Toronto International Film Festival. It won the New York Drama Critics Award, the Outer Critics Circle Award, the Theater Club Award, and three Village Voice Obie Awards. It won the Golden Prize at the 14th Moscow International Film Festival. It was also nominated for three Academy Awards: for Best Picture, Supporting Actor (Adolph Caesar), and Screenplay Adaptation (Fuller).
About the Story
The time is 1944 during World War II. Vernon Waters (Adolph Caesar), a master sergeant in a company of black soldiers, is very drunk and staggering along a road along Fort Neal, a segregated Army base in Louisiana. Waters’ last words amidst his raucous laughter were “They still hate you! They still hate you!” before he is shot to death with a .45 caliber pistol.
When Waters’ body is found the next day, Captain Richard Davenport (Howard E. Rollins, Jr.), a black officer from the Judge Advocate General is sent to investigate, against the wishes of commanding officer Colonel Nivins (Trey Wilson). While the general consensus is that he was killed by local members of the Ku Klux Klan, others are doubtful, having heard that Waters’ stripes and insignia were still on his uniform and aware that the Klan’s typical M.O. is to remove them before lynching their victims.
From the outset, Davenport is faced with obstacles. Colonel Nivins will only give him three days to conduct his investigation. Even Captain Taylor (Dennis Lipscomb), the one white officer in favor of a full investigation, is uncooperative and patronizing, fearing that a black officer will have little success in catching those responsible. While some black soldiers are happy and proud to see one of their own race wearing captain’s bars, others are distrustful and evasive.
A Soldier’s Story (1984)
Directed by: Norman Jewison
Starring: Howard E. Rollins Jr., Adolph Caesar, Art Evans, David Alan Grier, David Harris, Denzel Washington, Patti LaBelle, William Allen Young
Screenplay by: Charles Fuller
Production Design by: Walter Scott Herndon
Cinematography by: Russell Boyd
Film Editing by: Caroline Biggerstaff, Mark Warner
Set Decoration by: Thomas L. Roysden
Music by: Herbie Hancock
Distributed by: Columbia Pictures
Release Date: September 13, 1984