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How Moving ‘Moonlight’ and ‘Loving’ Into Adapted Screenplay Changes The Oscar Race

The dynamics of the screenplay categories are shifting with these dramatic changes.

Jharrel Jerome and Ashton Sanders in "Moonlight"

“Moonlight”

Photo by David Bornfriend, courtesy of A24

People have been scratching their heads ever since A24 decided to campaign for Barry Jenkins’ “Moonlight” for original screenplay. That’s because the Writers Guild categorized it that way, an A24 spokesman told me.

Technically, the WGA determined that the play Jenkins adapted with playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney, “In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue,” was never produced. But the Academy Writers branch executive committee has decided that Jenkins did adapt “Moonlight” from another source. So that puts “Moonlight” into the race for Adapted Screenplay.

Also moving categories from Original to Adapted is Jeff Nichols’ “Loving” (also deemed original by the WGA). This makes sense, as much of the dialogue in the film comes straight from Nancy Buirski’s 2011 documentary “The Loving Story,” which the filmmaker and cast tried so hard to bring to fictional life.

Will these two films fare as well in the Adapted category as original? Actually, they rise to the top of that category, competing against Eric Heisserer’s “Arrival,” August Wilson’s “Fences,” and Tom Ford’s “Nocturnal Animals” as well as such hopefuls as “Hacksaw Ridge,” “Hidden Figures,” “Lion,” and “Sully.”

And this move opens up two valuable slots in the Original category, allowing Kenneth Lonergan’s “Manchester by the Sea” and Damien Chazelle’s “La La Land” more room to breathe against competitors “20th Century Women,” “Hell or High Water,” “The Lobster” and “Toni Erdmann,” among others.

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