In anticipation of the Academy Awards, we polled our contributors to see what they thought should win the Oscar. Once we had our winners, we asked various writers to make the case for our selection in each category. Here, Peter Sobczynski makes the case for the Best Adapted Screenplay of 2016: "Moonlight." Two winners will be announced Monday through Thursday, ending in our choices for Best Director and Best Picture on Friday.
In the days leading up to the Oscar nominations, there was some controversy surrounding the status of the screenplay to the widely praised drama “Moonlight.” Although inspired by Tarell McCraney’s never-produced play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue, many deemed the script by filmmaker Barry Jenkins and McCraney to be an original work and would be cited as such by organizations ranging from critics groups to the Writers Guild of America, who nominated it for their Original Screenplay award. However, the Academy decided that even though it had never been produced, what Jenkins and McCraney did was in fact an adaptation and moved it into the Adapted Screenplay competition instead.
One could debate the Academy’s methodology for qualifications but what cannot be denied is that the screenplay for “Moonlight” is more than worthy of winning the prize, regardless of category. The script follows three key stages in the evolution of a young black man in Miami, as he struggles to escape the cycle of poverty and drugs that have already claimed his mother. Simultaneously, he establishes his own personal and sexual identity with the influence of a local drug dealer and his girlfriend—who serve as surrogate parents—and a childhood fiend, the latter for whom he develops increasingly complex feelings.
Jenkins and McCraney bring new life and perspective to what could have been a standard coming-of-age narrative. They use vivid characteriziation and a narrative style that helps universalize the stories and struggles of those too often marginalized in contemporary filmmaking, all without resorting to mawkish sentimentality. The end result is a screenplay—and a film—that is powerful, direct, human and, despite what the category might suggest, blazingly original.