Norman Jewison

Canadian film director, producer and actor (1926–2024)

Norman Frederick Jewison CC OOnt (21 July 1926 – 20 January 2024) was a Canadian film and television director and producer. Jewison addressed social and political issues throughout his filmmaking career, often making controversial or complicated subjects accessible to mainstream audiences. He received the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences's Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award in 1999. He was nominated for 7 Academy Awards, three Golden Globe Awards, and a Primetime Emmy Award.

Norman Jewison in 2019

Jewison directed numerous feature films and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Director three times in three separate decades for In the Heat of the Night (1967; it won the BAFTA Award for Best Film), Fiddler on the Roof (1971), and Moonstruck (1987).


  • I don't make social statements in my pictures [...] though I do feel a film should be about something—that it have a raison d'etre. It should not shy away from social problems.
  • [On why he was not making a theatrical feature film for the studios] They'd say these films were too wordy, too cerebral, too much dialogue [...] They often want films with a minimum of dialogue and lots of action and limited adult themes to sell abroad.
  • [On why he was liking directing a television film] They leave you alone; there's no interference, no second guessing.
  • So many aspects of our life have disappeared from movie screens [...] And they're now appearing on cable.
  • I got involved with the issue of racism when I was a kid in Canada. When I was 17 or 18 we were at war so I joined the Canadian Navy. ... When I got out, I’ll never forget I had a month’s leave which you had to take before they demobilized you. During that time you could do whatever you wanted as long as you reported back. Someone told me that if you go to the States and you’re in uniform they treat you like a king. You can get a ride anywhere for nothing. So I started hitchhiking. I went to Chicago and then I kept going south. I was somewhere just outside Memphis and I wanted to get to the highway. A bus came along and I got on because I didn't have to pay. So I got on and sat in the back because it was a hot day and the windows were down. About five minutes later the bus stopped and the driver – a big beefy guy – looked at me through the mirror and said "you tryin' to be funny sailor?" I said no and he said "well can't you read the sign?" So I look up and there's a hand-painted sign on a piece of tin hanging by a wire in the middle of the bus. It said "colored people to the rear." So I looked around and sure enough there were a few black people sitting around me and the white people were in front. I didn't know what to do. I was so young I didn't realize there was this kind of racial tension in America. So [I] said "I'll get off the bus." He drove off and left me standing on a dusty street by myself.
  • The famous slap, where [Virgil] Tibbs retaliates against a racist landowner, wasn't improvised, though, as has been suggested. I kept telling [Sidney] Poitier that Tibbs was a sophisticated detective, not used to being pushed around. I showed him how to do the slap. "Don't hit him on the ear," I said. "I want you to really give him a crack on the fatty side of his cheek." I told him to practise on me. A black man had never slapped a white man back in an American film. We broke that taboo.

About Jewison

  • He gives his actors room and keeps them as calm as he can, because it's easier to speak with them when they're calm. A director has to keep the actors on their toes while the camera's running, but when the scene is done, they should be relaxing, nothing on their minds. There can't be a constant level of seriousness. And with Norman, there's always a lot of laughter.
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