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A Soldier's Story


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)

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

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
(16 September 1984)
(5 Screens)

Gross: $21,821,347

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

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,
Black man, is shot to death. The locals, as well as the Black enlisted
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
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
in order to prevent what they see as a potential race riot between the
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
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"
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
this movie's message.

Ceaser is astonishing as Waters, a man so full of loathing and bile
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
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
video store to find, but well worth the effort!