Best Picture “Moonlight” Sprung from Homework Assignment

When Tarell Alvin McCraney (THE ’03) and Barry Jenkins accepted this year’s Academy Award for best adapted screenplay for “Moonlight,” not many people realized McCraney had just won an Oscar for a story that started as homework.

“Moonlight,” which won best picture at both the Oscars and the Golden Globe Awards, was adapted by Jenkins, who also directed the film, from “In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue,” which McCraney began as a class project at The Theatre School at DePaul and finished a few years after graduating.

The movie focuses on McCraney’s impressions of growing up as a gay African-American boy but incorporates both his and Jenkins’ experiences being raised by single mothers struggling with drug addiction in the Liberty City neighborhood of Miami. Among the movie’s ensemble cast is Ashton Sanders, who studied at The Theatre School.

For McCraney, playwriting is about giving a voice to the voiceless, opening up worlds that are seldom seen on stage or on screen. “I think everybody in Liberty City, regardless of sexual identification, feels proud to have a movie that’s about where we live, and that deals with the issues that we deal with, but doesn’t … make a miserable portrait of it,” he told NBC News in a 2016 interview. “It still looks like a beautiful place. You still see that there are good people there and people who may do things that are less desirable but who also have good hearts.”

Tarell Alvin McCraney and Barry Jenkins at the 89th Annual Academy Awards on Feb. 26, 2017.

During his Oscars acceptance speech, McCraney dedicated the film to people who identify with its message: “This goes out to all those black and brown boys and girls and non-gender-conforming [people] who don’t see themselves [on the screen]. We’re trying to show you you, and us. This is for you.”

McCraney becomes the chair of playwriting at Yale School of Drama on July 1. The recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship “genius grant” in 2013, he is an ensemble member of Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago and Teo Castellanos/D Projects Theater Company in Miami. In February 2017, he was named best mid-career playwright by PEN America, a literary and human rights organization. He donated the prize money to the African Heritage Cultural Arts Center in Miami.

Watch a video in which McCraney discusses winning a MacArthur Fellowship in 2013. >>

Read a 2013 DePaul Magazine interview with McCraney. >>

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