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My chat with Oscar nominee Tarell Alvin McCraney

Tarell Alvin McCraney is the man who essentially lived Moonlight.

The film, nominated for eight Academy Awards including best picture, is largely based on the play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue which McCraney wrote in 2003.

‘A great deal of the story is based on my life and (writer-director) Barry Jenkins’ life in Miami for sure,’ McCraney told me recently.

‘A lot of those events happened to me.’

Jenkins and McCraney grew up just blocks away from each other in the same housing project in Miami’s Liberty City neighborhood.

They even went to the same elementary school at the same time but did not know each other.

There were other similarities as well. Both men grew up in poverty with mothers who were addicted to drugs.

It was as adults that they met when Jenkins contacted McCraney about adapting his play to the screen.

Now they share an Oscar nomination in the adapted screenplay category.

‘There is an element of excitement and fun to (the recognition) but even more than that there’s something that feels like we made good on a promise to our younger selves,’ says McCraney, 36.

Although McCraney is gay and Jenkins is straight, both see themselves in the movie’s main character of Chiron who lives in a Miami housing project with his mother who is addicted to crack.

A never performed play

In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue was one of three work samples McCraney used to gain admittance into Yale Drama School.

Because it was a piece that was somewhere between the stage and the screen, it was never performed on stage as McCraney’s other works were.

A high school classmate of McCraney’s found the play more than a decade later and thought it would be ideal for Jenkins to make as his second feature.

Jenkins took the play with him on a writing trip to Brussels, Belgium, and within 10 days had come up with the first draft of a screenplay.

The result was an acclaimed film that tells the story of Chiron during three different stages in his life.

He goes from bullied effeminate child to young gay man coming to terms with his sexuality.

Immediate acclaim

The film premiered at the Telluride Film Festival last September and was released in US theaters the following month.

Moonlight won the Golden Globe Award last month for Best Picture-Drama and has so far grossed $20 million at the US box office.

‘One thing I think that’s really important to both Barry and myself is that Barry shot a film based on life that we knew intimately,’ McCraney says.

‘It was specifically to try and tell a story about a place that we thought nobody would care about. To know that there’s more eyes and that it raised it to a platform where people actually are engaging in the sexual exploration and burgeoning of a young black poor kid is amazing to us.’

McCraney recalls the first time he saw the completed film.

‘It defied all kinds of expectations I had,’ he says.

‘The first time i saw it I thought Barry must’ve been kidding me. I walked away sort of thinking to myself how is this possible? It was so beautiful. And those performances. I couldn’t have asked for a better cast, director, producers.’

FILE UNDER: Interviews

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