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My chat with Tarell Alvin McCraney about life since the Academy Awards for the ‘Moonlight’ screenplay

The man who lived Moonlight is now living the life of an Oscar winner.

Tarell Alvin McCraney co-wrote Best Picture winner Moonlight and shared the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay with the film’s director Barry Jenkins.

But the 36 year old has had little time to bask in the Oscar glow.

The openly gay McCraney is the new chair of playwriting at the Yale School of Drama and his duties there had him traveling back to the East Coast soon after Oscar night.

‘It’s been very hectic and busy,’ McCraney told me when we chatted at the recent GLAAD Media Awards in Los Angeles.

‘I had to get right back on the plane. I’ve been recruiting and doing interviews. I had applications to read. It really is important to me to make sure that my students know that I’m there for them. Their work is so important to the future of what we do. We just finished our interviewing process and we just invited our next students to be in class next year.’

Because he has been so focused, McCraney has even put away the shiny, golden Oscar and other awards including the Independent Spirit Award and the Writers Guild of America prize.

‘I can’t have it out,’ he says. ‘It’s beautiful. The awards are all in a nice beautiful cabinet where I can look at them when I need to.’

The inspiration for Moonlight

McCraney’s play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue was one of three work samples that years ago he himself used to gain admittance into Yale School of Drama.

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

Played by three different actors, he goes from bullied effeminate child to young gay man coming to terms with his sexuality.

A night of firsts

Because he dove right back into his work at Yale, McCraney is ‘still trying to process’ all that happened at the Academy Awards which took place at The Dolby Theatre in Hollywood on 26 February.

‘We were a lot of firsts that night – first African-American director (Jenkins) with an all black cast to win an Academy Award for best picture.

‘To win three Oscars that night, it is sort of staggeringly beautiful. I know I’m still processing it.’

In addition to Best Picture and Adapted Screenplay, Mahershala Ali won for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role.

The Best Picture win was also historic for an unfortunate reason: presenters Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty were handed the wrong envelope as they took the stage which led to La La Land being announced as the winner by mistake.

The Moonlight team took to the stage after La La Land producers made their speeches and it was announced there had been an error.

‘That moment (of winning) is something that so few people actually get to experience that no one has been able to tell me what the other way is like so this is the only way I know it – it’s the only way I know that the film that was inspired by my work won Best Picture.

‘That’s the feeling that I have and I’m grateful for it.’

FILE UNDER: Awards, Interviews


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