Norman Jewison, Filmmaker Who Spanned Genres, Is Dead at 97

by The Technical Blogs

But throughout his career Mr. Jewison was repeatedly drawn to more serious fare, in movies like “F.I.S.T.” (1978), a labor-union drama that starred Sylvester Stallone; “In Country” (1989), about the daughter of a Vietnam War casualty; and his last film, “The Statement” (2003), the story of a former Nazi collaborator, played by Michael Caine.

Well into the post-civil-rights era, Mr. Jewison remained interested in race, specifically racial injustice. In 1984, he directed “A Soldier’s Story,” an adaptation of Charles Fuller’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “A Soldier’s Play,” which, like “In the Heat of the Night,” told the story of a Deep South murder investigation, this time on an Army base in World War II-era Louisiana. The movie was critically praised and earned Mr. Jewison yet another best picture nomination.

But when it was announced a few years later that Mr. Jewison would be directing a film about the life of Malcolm X, he encountered resistance. The filmmaker Spike Lee, who had long wanted to make such a film himself, was the most outspoken critic of the choice, maintaining that a white director could not do justice to the story of a major Black political activist.

Mr. Jewison eventually left the project, although he denied that his departure was in response to the protest. Mr. Lee himself went on to direct “Malcolm X,” which was released in 1992, and later said that Mr. Jewison “was happy I got to do the film.”

In 1999, Mr. Jewison directed “The Hurricane,” about Rubin Carter, the African American boxer whose career was cut short by a murder conviction, and who was imprisoned for nearly 20 years before the charges against him were dismissed. Denzel Washington (who had one of his first film roles in “A Soldier’s Story,” and who had also starred in “Malcolm X”) received rave reviews and an Oscar nomination for his performance in the title role (Stephen Holden of The Times called it “astonishing”). But the film was criticized by many for taking liberties in its depiction of Mr. Carter’s life and legal battles.

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