Oscar voting ended on February 21, and usually in the last few days one can tell where a film stands—and, in some cases, always stood—from news items related to where the allegiances of certain voters lie. When actors like Mark Duplass lobby in favor of Moonlight, encouraging Oscar voters to contemplate what a best picture victory would “mean” for the Barry Jenkins film, he’s acknowledging both the cultural moment in which Moonlight was fostered and its uphill battle against the received wisdom that La La Land has been the best picture favorite since the start of the awards season.
Last Sunday, Moonlight won the award for original screenplay at the Writers Guild of America Awards, where it competed against La La Land and Manchester by the Sea. But Moonlight wasn’t deemed eligible to compete in the Oscar category for original screenplay back in December, a decision that should have only surprised those unfamiliar with AMPAS’s almost mind-melting quota-making. In this case, that Jenkins adapted Moonlight from a stage piece, In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue, even though said piece was never officially produced, qualified it to compete here.
The good news for Jenkins was that the move guaranteed his screenplay’s frontrunner status in this category. But when one considers the increasingly elastic—read: wishy-washy—rules that determine which Oscar category a script falls into (we’re still scratching our heads over Syriana’s original screenplay nomination back in 2006), it’s difficult to not give Moonlight’s slotting here the side-eye. It’s as if, as early as December, AMPAS anticipated the La La Land sweep and wanted to give themselves an insurance policy against accusations of giving Moonlight the shaft by forcing it to not have to compete in this category against the film that, when all is said in done, was adapted from our memories of yesterday’s superior musicals.
Will Win: Moonlight
Could Win: Hidden Figures
Should Win: Moonlight