EXCLUSIVE: In a surprising development that could affect for Original and Adapted Screenplay Oscar races, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences has confirmed that A24’s Moonlight and Focus Features’ Loving — both of which were being campaigned for Original Screenplay and determined to be originals by the Writers Guild in their WGA Awards — have been ruled out of that Oscar category. Instead, the Academy’s writers branch ruled them eligible only in the Adapted Screenplay Oscar race. This is not the first time the Academy and the WGA have disagreed on what is an Original versus Adapted screenplay, but it is rare and certainly confuses the situation.
In the case of Moonlight, it is based on a stage piece, In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue, that never was officially produced. That show’s writer, Tarell Alvin McCraney, has a Story By credit on the film’s script that was written, and extensively reworked, by Barry Jenkins, who also directed the film. Jenkins split the original into three distinct chapters, differing in many ways from the specific play McCraney had written. In the case of Loving, the story of the interracial marriage that defied Virginia law and went all the way to a landmark 1967 decision by the Supreme Court, it is an original screenplay by Jeff Nichols but was originally developed as a 2011 HBO documentary, The Loving Story, by writer-director Nancy Buirski, She has a producer credit on the new film that stars Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga, both nominated for Golden Globes this week. The Academy has determined that both sufficiently are based on pre-existing material to be classified as adaptations rather than originals.
What does this mean for the Oscar writing race? It considerably opens up the field for Original Screenplay, where Moonlight was considered one of the front-runners, along with Manchester by the Sea and La La Land. Such scripts as Hell or High Water, Toni Erdmann, Zootopia, Jackie, The Lobster, Captain Fantastic and 20th Century Women among others also are fighting for a slot now. This development also shakes up the seemingly less competitive Adapted Screenplay contest, which didn’t have the three presumed Best Picture front-runners (La La Land, Moonlight, Manchester by the Sea) to contend with and instead saw such films as Lion, Fences, Silence, Nocturnal Animals, Sully, Arrival, Hacksaw Ridge and Hidden Figures topping the list of most pundits’ projections. With Loving, and particularly Moonlight now switching to Adapted, things are really shaking up there, and A24 and Focus will have to adjust their campaigns. Moonlight likely becomes the instant front-runner for Adapted Screenplay, and things just got a little easier for La La Land and Manchester by the Sea in the Original Screenplay race. Both tied for the Critics’ Choice Award on Sunday night in that category.