Director Norman Jewison, best known for his films In the Heat of the Night and the musical Jesus Christ Superstar, died this weekend at the age of 97.

The Canadian filmmaker “died peacefully on Saturday,” according to a press release published Monday, January 22, by his agent, Jeff Sanderson, who specifies that ceremonies in his honor will take place “later in Los Angeles and Toronto.” During his career, he was nominated three times for the Academy Award for Best Director without ever winning. But one of his most famous films, In the Heat of the Night, won five Oscars in 1968, including Best Picture, and he himself received a Lifetime Achievement Oscar in 1999.

Born in Toronto, Canada, in 1926, Norman Jewison began working in television, at the BBC in London, then for CBC in his home country. His work earned him offers from Hollywood and he gained a reputation as a director of television musicals, with stars such as Judy Garland, Danny Kaye and Harry Belafonte. He moved to a feature film in 1963 with the comedy Trouble A Lot, with Tony Curtis and Suzanne Pleshette.

Political satire for The Russians are Coming (1966), heist film with Steve McQueen in The Thomas Crown Affair (1968), musical comedy with Fiddler on the Roof (1971), his work ventures into very diverse genres. But in the United States, his legacy remains above all that of a filmmaker with an interest in social issues. Thus, with In the Heat of the Night released in 1967, he addresses American racial tensions through a murder in Mississippi, for which an African-American, played by Sidney Poitier, who is in reality a Philadelphia police officer, is accused. and ultimately finds himself leading the investigation with the local white sheriff, while dealing with the racism of the residents.

“Films that deal with civil rights and social justice are those that are most dear to me,” declared Norman Jewison, the New York Times recalled on Monday.

He withdraws from the Malcolm X biopic

The social question had challenged Norman Jewison while he was hitchhiking in the southern United States at the end of his Canadian military service during the Second World War. In his autobiography, he explained that he had seen up close the racism and injustice of the segregation laws established in the country.

“Whenever a film deals with racism, many Americans feel uncomfortable,” he wrote. However, we must face it. We must face prejudice and injustice, otherwise we will never understand what is good and evil, just and unjust; we must feel what “the other” feels. »

In the early 1990s, Norman Jewison was to direct a biopic of Malcolm It was ultimately Spike Lee who directed the film.

In total, Norman Jewison has directed more than twenty films, and has directed the biggest names in Hollywood: Sylvester Stallone in F.I.S.T (1978), Al Pacino in Justice for All (1979), Denzel Washington in Hurricane Carter (1978). 1999). He also collaborated with Gérard Depardieu, whom he directed with Whoopi Goldberg in Bogus in 1995.

A “visionary” with “unique” films

The Canadian Film Centre, a training institution created by Norman Jewison in 1988, said on Monday that it was mourning a “visionary” and a “national icon”, known “for his commitment to social justice”. The Canadian Minister of Heritage, Pascale St-Onge, praised a filmmaker with “unique” films.

“I was never really part of the establishment like I wanted to be,” he told The Hollywood Reporter in 2011. “I wanted to be accepted. I wanted people to say, “That’s a great film.” I mean I have a big ego like everyone else. But I never felt totally accepted, which is maybe a good thing,” he added.

His films have received 46 Oscar nominations and won twelve awards. Enough to allow pop singer Cher to win the Oscar for best actress, for her romance with Nicolas Cage in Moonlight (1987).

“Thank you for one of the greatest, happiest, most fun experiences of my life,” the singer reacted on Monday on X. “Without you, I wouldn’t have my beautiful golden man. »