USC Scripter Awards: Why It Matters That 'Moonlight' Won (Analysis)

Oscars - Moonlight Producer Talks Casting Mahershala Ali - H 2017
Courtesy of A24

Bookmark Feb. 11 as the date pundits confirmed that Moonlight was the nominee to beat in the best adapted screenplay Oscar category.

Why? Because that's when Barry Jenkins' drama about a young man growing up black and gay in Miami took home the film honor at the 29th USC Scripter Awards, an event, hosted by the USC Libraries, that honors the screenwriters of the year's "most accomplished cinematic adaptations," as well as the authors of the "written work upon which the screenplay is based." (In the case of Moonlight, Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney both have received Oscar nominations for the film, for which Jenkins wrote the screenplay and McCraney provided the story, an adaptation of an unproduced play by McCraney's.)

All five of this year's Scripter nominees also were nominated for the best adapted screenplay Oscar — the others being Arrival, Fences, Hidden Figures and Lion — and the fact that Moonlight prevailed over the same competition that it will face on Feb. 26 is worth noting.

Even more noteworthy is the fact that the Scripter nominees and winner — well, winners, since they also have a TV award, which this year went to The Night Manager and The People vs. O.J. Simpson in a tie — were chosen by a selection committee packed with many of the same people who vote for the Oscars.

Among the Academy members serving on the committee this year: chair Howard Rodman (president of the Writers Guild of America), as well as Oscar-winning screenwriters Geoffrey Fletcher, Christopher Hampton, John Ridley and Eric Roth; Oscar-nominated screenwriters Naomi Foner, Lawrence Kasdan, Nicholas Kazan, Hawk Ostby and Robin Swicord; Oscar-nominated producers Albert Berger and Ron Yerxa; and other notables including writers Scott Neustadter, Wesley Strick, Michael H. Weber and Erin Cressida Wilson and producers Gail Mutrux, Michelle Satter and Paula Wagner. That's quite a sample group.

(The committee also includes, among others, authors Michael Chabon, Michael Ondaatje and Mona Simpson; film critics Leonard Maltin, Peter Rainer and Kenneth Turan; and USC deans Elizabeth Daley and Catherine Quinlan and professor Leo Braudy.)

One final reason to take notice of the Scripter Award when forecasting the Oscars: Each of the last six winners of the best adapted screenplay Oscar first won the ScripterThe Social Network (2010), The Descendants (2011), Argo (2012), 12 Years a Slave (2013), The Imitation Game (2014) and The Big Short (2015); and before them, six others did, too — Schindler's List (1993), Sense and Sensibility (1995), L.A. Confidential (1997), A Beautiful Mind (2001), No Country for Old Men (2007) and Slumdog Millionaire (2008).

Don't let anyone shush you about these facts — it is, well, past due for people to recognize them!