Carmen Jones is a 1954 American musical film produced and directed by Otto Preminger. The screenplay by Harry Kleiner is based on the libretto for the 1943 stage production of the same name by Oscar Hammerstein II, which was inspired by an adaptation of the 1845 Prosper Mérimée novella Carmen by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy. Hammerstein also wrote the lyrics to music composed by Georges Bizet for his 1875 opera Carmen.
In 1992, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”
The Broadway production of Carmen Jones opened on December 2, 1943 and ran for 503 performances. When he saw it, Otto Preminger dismissed it as a series of “skits loosely based on the opera” with a score “simplified and changed so that the performers who had no operatic training could sing it.” In adapting it for the screen, he wanted to make “a dramatic film with music rather than a conventional film musical,”  so he decided to return to the original source material – the Prosper Mérimée novella – and hired Harry Kleiner, whom he had taught at Yale University, to expand the story beyond the limitations imposed upon it by the Bizet opera and Hammerstein’s interpretation of it.
Preminger realized no major studio would be interested in financing an operatic film with an all-black cast, so he decided to produce it independently. He anticipated United Artist executives Arthur B. Krim and Robert S. Benjamin, who had supported him in his censorship battles with The Moon Is Blue, would be willing to invest in the project, but the two felt it was not economically viable and declined. Following the completion of his previous film, River of No Return, Preminger had paid 20th Century Fox $150,000 to cancel the remainder of his contract, so he was surprised when Fox head Darryl F. Zanuck contacted him and offered to finance the film while allowing him to operate as a fully independent filmmaker. In December 1953, he accepted $750,000 and began what became a prolonged preproduction period. He hired cinematographer Sam Leavitt as director of photography, Herschel Burke Gilbert as musical director, and Herbert Ross as choreographer and began to scout locations.
On April 14, 1954, six weeks before principal photography was scheduled to begin, Preminger was contacted by Joseph Breen, who was in the final months of his leadership of the office of the Motion Picture Production Code. Breen had clashed with Preminger over The Moon Is Blue and still resented the director’s success in releasing that film without a seal of approval. He cited the “over-emphasis on lustfulness” in Carmen Jones and was outraged by the screenplay’s failure to include “any voice of morality properly condemning Carmen’s complete lack of morals.”  Preminger agreed to make some minor adjustments to the script and even filmed two versions of scenes Breen found objectionable, although he included the more controversial ones in the final film.
Because he himself was sensitive to the issue of racial representation in the film, Preminger had no objections when Zanuck urged him to submit the script to Walter Francis White, executive secretary of the NAACP, who had no objection to it.
Preminger began to assemble his cast. Harry Belafonte, a folk singer who recently had introduced Calypso music to a mainstream audience, had only one film to his credit, but he had just won the Tony Award and Theatre World Award for his performance in John Murray Anderson’s Almanac, and Preminger cast him as Joe. Pearl Bailey’s sole screen credit was the 1948 film Isn’t It Romantic?, but she had achieved success as a band singer and was familiar to television audiences from her appearances on Your Show of Shows, so she was assigned the role of Frankie. Joe Adams was a Los Angeles disc jockey with no acting experience, but Preminger felt he had the right look for Husky. Diahann Carroll auditioned for the title role, but she was so terrified of the director she could barely focus on the scene, and Preminger cast her in the small supporting role of Myrt instead.
Preminger was familiar with Dorothy Dandridge but felt she was incapable of exuding the sultry sex appeal the role of Carmen demanded, particularly after having seen Dandridge’s performance as a demure schoolteacher opposite Belafonte in 1953’s Bright Road. Her agent’s office was in the same building where Preminger’s brother Ingo worked, and he asked Ingo to intercede on his client’s behalf. At his first meeting with Dandridge, Preminger told her she was “lovely” and looked like a “model” or “a beautiful butterfly,” but not Carmen, and suggested she audition for the role of Cindy Lou. Dandridge took the script and left, and when she returned she was dressed and behaved exactly as Preminger envisioned Carmen. The director was impressed enough to schedule a screen test for mid-May, after Dandridge completed a singing engagement in St. Louis. In the interim he cast Juilliard School graduate Olga James as Cindy Lou.