Film: A Soldier's Story

"The worst thing you can do, in this part of the country, is pay too much attention to the death of a negro under mysterious circumstances."
Colonel Nivens

A 1984 film directed by Norman Jewison, A Soldier's Story was based on the Charles Fuller play A Soldier's Play, which was also a loose Setting Update of Billy Budd. The film starred Denzel Washington, Adolph Caesar and Larry Riley, all of whom originated their roles in the play.

The setting is Fort Neal, Louisiana in 1944. Sergeant Vernon Waters has been murdered by an unknown shooter. Captain Richard Davenport is sent in to investigate the killing. At first, the Klan or racist white soldiers are suspected of the crime. Through his investigation, Davenport finds the truth.

This film provides examples of:

  • Arc Words: Sgt. Waters' last words, "They still hate you!"
  • Asshole Victim: Sgt. Waters' actions led to C.J.'s suicide.
  • Berserk Button: Sgt. Waters hates "geechies".
  • Bring It: "You wanna hit ole Sgt. Waters?"
  • Boomerang Bigot: Deconstructed with Sgt. Waters. He spent his life emulating the racist whites around him. He realizes the futility of it just as he's about to be killed.
  • Butt Monkey: Wilkie is first seen being ridiculed (not maliciously) by the other men. Later his role is more dramatic when he was dragged into framing C.J. by Waters.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Davenport is more of the dry variety of sarcasm.
  • The Dog Bites Back: Why Sgt. Waters was killed.
  • Drill Sergeant Nasty: Sgt. Waters.
  • Driven to Suicide: C.J. Memphis.
  • Eureka Moment: When Davenport learns that no one but MP patrols were issued .45 sidearms.
  • Jerkass: Sgt. Waters was a strict general who didn't hesitate to insult his men.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Private Wilkie explained that even with his harsh demeanor, Sgt. Waters was a good man. Subverted when it was discovered in Wilkie's flashback that the sergeant set up C.J. solely because he though the soldier was "stereotypical".
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Cobbs and C.J. become this due to being from the South.
  • Nice Guy: C.J. was one of the nicest, kindest, and sociable soldier under Sgt. Waters. Which made Waters' set up of C.J. made the dead man even more detestable.
  • No Respect Guy: Davenport is on the receiving end of this by the white soldier. Justified given the racist time period.
  • Not So Different: Both Waters and Peterson feel like they have the right to decide who deserve life or death. Waters wanted to promote Peterson because of his defiant attitude.
  • Posthumous Character: Sgt. Waters.
  • The Reveal: Sgt. Waters was killed by his own men.
  • Shut Up, Hannibal!: Davenport gives this to Peterson when the latter states that Waters deserved to die. Prompting Capt. Davenport to angrily ask what gave Peterson the right to see who lives and who dies.
  • Society Marches On: The term "geechee" is almost unknown now.
  • Stop Being Stereotypical: Sgt. Waters' reason for hating his men.
  • Tragic Bigot/Tragic Villain: It's strongly hinted that Sgt. Waters' father is the reason for his hatred towards the black men he deems stereotypical. The moment before he is shot by Peterson, Waters is plain weeping out his frustration.
  • Uncle Tomfoolery: Waters despises this trope. He even tells a story of how he and some of his mates killed a black guy in France because he allowed whites to dress him like a monkey and live out every racist stereotype.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Waters never intended for C.J. to commit suicide.