A Soldier's Story

A Soldier's Story Information

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 and segregation in a black U.S Army regiment with white officers deep 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 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).


Conflicted, light-skinned Sergeant Waters (Adolph Caesar) ruthlessly heaps abuse upon his men. He calls them names, but he especially relishes torturing the jovial and highly talented C.J. Memphis (Larry Riley). Sergent Waters especially cannot stand the light-hearted behavior from the fellow black men in the platoon.

When Waters is killed, there are plenty of suspects for Captain Davenport (Howard E. Rollins, Jr.) to investigate. Some soldiers also believe that Sergeant Waters was killed by the Ku Klux Klan.

Art Evans plays Private Wilkie, a nervous man too acquiescent for his own good. David Alan Grier plays C.J.'s closest friend, bonded by their Mississippi roots. Denzel Washington, in one of his earliest motion picture roles, portrays the deeply embittered Pfc. Peterson.


  • Howard E. Rollins, Jr. as Capt. Davenport
  • Adolph Caesar as Sgt. Waters
  • Art Evans as Pvt. Wilkie
  • David Alan Grier as Cpl. Cobb
  • David Harris as Pvt. Smalls
  • Dennis Lipscomb as Capt. Taylor
  • Larry Riley as C.J. Memphis
  • Robert Townsend as Cpl. Ellis
  • Denzel Washington as Pfc. Peterson
  • William Allen Young as Pvt. Henson
  • John Hancock as Sgt. Washington
  • Patti LaBelle as Big Mary
  • Trey Wilson as Col. Nivens
  • Wings Hauser as Lt. Byrd


Jewison and many of the cast members worked for scale or less under a tight budget with Columbia Pictures. "No one really wanted to make this movie... a black story, it was based on World War II, and those themes were not popular at the box office", according to Jewison. Warner Bros. turned it down, as did Universal's president, Ned Tanen, and UA and MGM followed suit. Columbia's Frank Price read the screenplay and was deeply interested, but the studio was hesitant about its commercial value, so Jewison offered to do the film for a $5 million budget and no salary. When the Directors Guild of America insisted he must have a fee, he agreed to take the lowest possible amount. The film ended up grossing $22.1 million.

Howard E. Rollins, Jr. had just received an Oscar nomination for his role in Ragtime and was cast as the lead. Most of the cast came from Broadway careers, but only Adolph Caesar, Denzel Washington, and William Allen Young appeared in both the movie and the original off-Broadway play with the Negro Ensemble Company in the New York version.

A Soldier's Story was shot entirely in Arkansas. The "Tynin" exterior scenes were shot in three days in Clarendon. The baseball sequence was filmed in Little Rock at the historic Lamar Porter Field.

Bill Clinton (then Governor of Arkansas) dropped by during the shooting. He became very enthused about the project and later helped by providing the Arkansas Army National Guard in full regalia for a grand scene, since Jewison could not afford to pay an army of extras. Production was completed with their help at Fort Chaffee United States Army Ready Reserve base at Fort Smith (where Elvis Presley had done his basic training).

Musical score

Herbie Hancock delivered an interpretative impromptu score. Patti Labelle and Larry Riley, who plays guitar, wrote and performed their own songs. The blues played a large role in the film's music.

Unfortunately there was no known consideration given to the production of an official soundtrack due to the aforementioned budgetary restraints -- this, despite the film's relative box office success.



  • Edgar Award, Best Motion Picture Screenplay " Charles Fuller
  • Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards, Best Supporting Actor " Adolph Caesar
  • 14th Moscow International Film Festival " Golden Prize
  • NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Motion Picture


  • Academy Award for Best Picture
  • Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture - Drama
  • Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures " Norman Jewison
  • Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor " Adolph Caesar
  • Golden Globe Award Best Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture " Adolph Caesar
  • Academy Award for Writing Adapted Screenplay " Charles Fuller
  • Golden Globe Award for Best Screenplay - Motion Picture " Charles Fuller
  • Writers Guild of America for Best Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium " Charles Fuller

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