Moonlight is based on the semi-autobiographical play “In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue” by Tarell Alvin McCraney, and it received a myriad of Oscar nominations including Best Director, Best Picture, and Best Adapted Screenplay.
By Robert Gold, staff writer
In 2016, public outrage erupted over the 88th Academy Awards when, for the second year in a row, not a single black actor was nominated in any of the 20 slots in four acting categories. The 89th Academy Awards, premiering February 27, 2017 promises to be a much more lucrative year for African-Americans in film.
Three out of the nine films nominated for Best Picture feature black casts. These films include; Hidden Figures, Fences and of course, Moonlight. On a budget of $25 million, Hidden Figures grossed $165.9 million worldwide. Despite the widespread industry belief that popular black films don’t sell overseas, this film made back its entire budget in international proceeds alone. With copious awards and three Oscar nominations, Hidden Figures is also up for Best Picture alongside Moonlight.
Fences, written by two time Pulitzer Prize winner August Wilson, has received four Oscar nominations and made its budget back two times over. Each of August Wilson’s works are set in a different decade, depicting tragic aspects of the African-American experience. The film’s star, two time Oscar winner Denzel Washington, is nominated for Best Actor.
Similar to Richard Linklater’s Sundance indie flick Boyhood, Moonlight’s narrative unfolds in three chapters; pre-pubescent, adolescent and adult. McCraney’s play sees these three periods overlapping, leading the audience to believe that these are different individuals entirely. In a Flavorwire interview McCraney explains, “It was three parts simultaneously, so you saw a specific day in the life of all three of the characters, but you learned eventually that they were one person.”
Written as a High School project in drama class, McCraney’s play was never published or performed. Years later, a friend of his submitted it into the Borscht Film Festival, where it caught the eye of writer/producer Barry Jenkins.
Jenkins, who wrote and directed the film, has a life that closely reflects that in which the play is based. Funnily enough, McCraney and Jenkins both grew up in the Liberty City projects in Miami, Florida . In fact, both the playwright and the director lived in the very same public housing unit, but the they never knew each other.
Jenkin’s adaptation of McCraney’s work integrates their diverging and intertwined experiences, projecting them into a story that tackles society’s blanketing perceptions of black manhood. McCraney’s work as a playwright frequently focuses on the potency of personal narrative and often those of young black men. Seeing as to how well the playwright’s first film adaptation has been received by both critics and film audiences alike, we should expect to see more of McCraney’s work in the near future.