Charles Fuller, the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright behind some of the most important Black stories in theater, passed away on Monday at the age of 83, per The Hollywood Reporter.
His signature work, A Soldier’s Play, which won the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 1982, follows Black Captain Richard Davenport as he investigates the murder of Black Sergeant Vernon Waters at a segregated Army Base in Louisiana in 1944. The original off-Broadway production starred Charles Brown as Davenport and Adolph Caesar as Waters.
The memorable film version of A Soldier’s Play was released in 1984, with Howard E. Rollins Jr. joining Caesar, who reprised his role in an Oscar-nominated performance. The star-studded cast featured young actors Denzel Washington, Robert Townsend, William Allen Young and David Alan Grier. Black films did not get recognized with awards and fanfare in the early ‘80s, so for this movie to be nominated for three Academy Awards, including Best Picture, was a huge deal. To this day, it’s still considered one of the most ground-breaking Black films ever made.
A Soldier’s Play made it to Broadway in 2020, winning Tonys for Best Revival of a Play and Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Play for Grier, who now found himself playing Waters.
In response to news of Fuller’s passing, Grier tweeted, “Rest n Peace Charles Fuller author of A Soldiers Play and the Oscar-nominated screenplay of A Soldiers Story. Pulitzer Prize recipient and amazing and wonderful artist. It has been my greatest honor to perform his words on both stage and screen, his genius will be missed.”
Over the years actors like Samuel L. Jackson, Larry Riley, Taye Diggs, James McDaniel, Anthony Mackie and Blair Underwood have appeared in various productions of A Soldier’s Play, and Fuller’s work will continue to reach audiences as an upcoming national tour will star Norm Lewis, with Grier also developing a limited series based on the work.
The Oscar-nominee never shied away from discussing race, with some of his most notable plays including Zooman and the Sign, about a young Black girl’s murder; The Perfect Party, about interracial marriage; and The Brownsville Raid, which follows the “dishonorable discharge of an entire Black U.S. Army regiment in 1906 for inciting a riot.”