A Soldier's Story

February 28th, 1985


A Soldier's Story

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An African American officer investigates a murder in a racially charged situation in World War II.

Release Year: 1984

Rating: 7.1/10 (4,026 voted)

Director: Norman Jewison

Stars: Howard E. Rollins Jr., Adolph Caesar, Art Evans

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 ?

Writers: Charles Fuller, Charles Fuller

Howard E. Rollins Jr. - Captain Davenport
Adolph Caesar - Sergeant Waters
Art Evans - Private Wilkie
David Alan Grier - Corporal Cobb
David Harris - Private Smalls
Dennis Lipscomb - Captain Taylor
Larry Riley - C.J. Memphis
Robert Townsend - Corporal Ellis
Denzel Washington - Private First Class Peterson
William Allen Young - Private Henson
Patti LaBelle - Big Mary
Wings Hauser - Lieutenant Byrd
Scott Paulin - Captain Wilcox
John Hancock - Sergeant Washington
Trey Wilson - Colonel Nivens

Taglines: Alone, far from home, and far from justice, he has three days to learn the truth about a murder...and the truth is a story you won't forget.

Release Date: 28 February 1985

Filming Locations: Clarendon, Arkansas, USA

Opening Weekend: $156,383 (USA) (16 September 1984) (5 Screens)

Gross: $21,821,347 (USA)

Technical Specs


Did You Know?

The original off-Broadway Negro Ensemble Company production of "A Soldier's Story " by Charles Fuller opened at the Lucille Lortel Theatre in New York on November 20, 1981, ran until January 2, 1983 and won the Pulitzer Prize in Drama in 1982.

Revealing mistakes: There are captain bars on Lt Byrd lapel and helmet when he encounters Sgt. Waters.

Master Sergeant Vernon Waters: You know the damage one ignorant Negro can do? We were in France in the first war; we'd won decorations. But the white boys had told all them French gals that we had tails. Then they found this ignorant colored soldier, paid him to tie a tail to his ass and run around half-naked...

User Review

Outstanding murder mystery centered around a different type of racism...


"A Soldier's Story," directed by Norman Jewison, tells a very powerful and tragic tale of black racism in WWII America. It is equally puzzling and disturbing and will leave you thinking about it for a long time to come.

The story takes place at a military base in the American South during the last full year of the Second World War, in 1944. Sergeant Vernon Waters, a Black man, is shot to death. The locals, as well as the Black enlisted men at the base, believe it to be the work of the Ku Klux Klan. Captain Davenport, also a Black man, as well as the first Black officer most of the men at this base have ever seen, is asked to investigate this. The White officers all want to see this matter brought to a swift and tidy conclusion in order to prevent what they see as a potential race riot between the Black soldiers and local Whites around town.

Davenport (deftly played by the late Howard E. Rollins Jr.) questions the enlisted men at the base, and begins to learn that the murdered sergeant(Adolph Ceaser in an Oscar-nominated performance) had no shortage of enemies, White and Black.

Through a series of flashbacks, we learn that Waters is a man of great personal pride and dignity, a man who believes that the African-American race has great potential to "take it's rightful place in history" alongside the White race in America. But his pride is also fueled by a terrible hatred of Black men, mostly Southern men, who he believes are hurting the race by presenting themselves as lower-class bumpkins; the stereotypical shiftless, lazy, ignorant types; the smiling, singing clowns; the "yassah-boss niggers."

One soldier, C.J. Memphis, a simple but charming, illiterate, guitar-strumming man, comes to personify these character traits in Waters' eyes. The clash between those two personalities is a crucial centerpiece to this movie's message.

Ceaser is astonishing as Waters, a man so full of loathing and bile towards his own people, you can feel it oozing off the screen. His best moment occurs in a bar where he stares into a mirror and talks in a dark tone about his unit's heroic efforts in France in the First World War, and how one Black soldier destroyed that sterling image in the minds of many White Frenchmen.....and what Waters did in response. It's chilling.

An undervalued film that you may have to look a little harder in your local video store to find, but well worth the effort!


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