Saturday, March 27, 2010

Why Master Sergeant Waters Is My Favorite Character In The Movie "A Solider's Story"

A hater who obviously was doing background research by reading my blogs taunted me with the question:

"Who was your favorite character in the movie 'A Soldier's Story'?  I bet it was not the character played by Denzel Washington."

I told my friend that he was indeed correct.  Private First Class Peterson (Denzel Washington) was not my favorite character in the movie.

My critic is of the view that PFC Peterson represented strength via his rebellion against the system that was ultimately suppressing them as Black men.  More importantly he killed the Black man who worked as an enforcer of the system of oppression.

My favorite character is Master Sergeant Waters, played by the late Adolph Caeser.  Sergeant Waters was indeed seen as the agent for the enforcement of the system of White racism that had infected the military system of order and discipline within which they all were bound.

Both Peterson and Waters are guilty of killing a "Black man".   Waters killed a Black man in the past who dared dress up like a monkey with a tail and eat bananas for the benefit of White racist officers in the French military.  This Black soldier was guilty of committing an individual assault that had gross negative ramifications upon all Black people.  Later Waters triggered the suicide of a "Geechy Black man" who gladly sang for people and smiled when they verbally assaulted his intelligence and manhood.  Waters set him up so that he might be arrested and removed from his ability to "embarrass Black people" with his performances.

Master Sergeant Waters had the goal of maintaining a high standard of dignity and order for Black people.  Despite his abundant flaws regarding how he carried out his enforcements of these high standards he served an important purpose that we could learn from today.  Waters was not upholding "white supremacy".  He saw himself as upholding military discipline and order.  In as much as the White Officers had exploited the military for their own racist agenda it is they who deserve the blame.  Waters knew that to radically rebel against the system would be to the long term detriment of the interests of the Black solider.  They might get shot dead by the racist civilians in the town at minimum.

PFC Peterson saw Sergeant Waters the key threat to the Black community.  He was the enforcer of White supremacy upon Black people in an up close and personal manner.  He saw Waters as an agent of oppression in which the individual character of all of his men were gutted so that Waters could stand strong for the White officers.  When Peterson killed Waters - he was killing the voice of the oppressor of Black people.  Ironically Waters had planned to promote Peterson.  He liked his resolve and how he stood his ground rather than being run over.

Ultimately Peterson's judgment upon Waters was just as flawed as was Waters' judgments of others.  While Waters was attempting to uphold certain standards of dignity Peterson had no particular mandate for Black people to uphold other than to not allow others to disrespect him.  What of the Blacks who operated in a disrespectful manner in the view of PFC Peterson?

The role of Captain Davenport was that of a "justice" for the military and for the Black race.

"Who gave you the right to judge?  The right to determine who is fit to be a Negro?". 

This is one of the most powerful lines in the movie.  Truthfully it could be applied to Peterson and Waters equally.  They both have killed Blacks in the pursuit of racial justice and dignity.

Ultimately it was the system of military justice and order that gave Captain Davenport his power and authority to seek justice for a Black man who was murdered.  Absent Davenport's presence the assumption that some unknown White man in the town shot a Black man dead.  The base commander was satisfied with this as he didn't want to rile up the town seeking justice for the murder of a Black man (who just happened to be one of his soldiers).   In addition such an assumption covered the tracks of the Black man who in fact killed Sergeant Waters.  It was the investigation for the truth that ultimately exposed all of the liars and bigots.

Ultimately we need systems in place that will allow us to progress forward.  When individual men take these judgments in their own hands - injustice and self-serving is the typical outcome.


Comedian Stevie Mack said...

My favorite character from A Soldier's Story is Captain Davenport as played by the late Howard Rollins Jr. His line, "Who gave you the right to judge? The right to determine who is fit to be a Negro?" was the crescendo that capped an operatic performance by the entire cast. And that line holds true today with those standing in judgement of Comedian Leslie Jones on SNL.

Roger Beckwith said...

It also applies to all of the racist comments from black liberal democrats towards conservative republican politicians. NAACP?

Terri Bey said...

Waters is a complicated character. I felt his murder was the death of what he stood for. I do agree that the Davenport character's line, "Who gave you right to judge? THe right to determine who is fit to be a Negro?" was the best line, and the most important line of the film. I honestly both Sgt. Peterson AND Sgt. Waters were wrong.