You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

How Brad Pitt Leveraged His Name and Shingle for Oscar Nominee ‘Moonlight’

Of the nine films nominated for best picture, fully one-third would not exist were it not for an A-list movie star leveraging personal clout to get the movie made in a system that simply doesn’t take those kinds of risks these days.

“Fences” is by far the most conventional example: Paramount had acquired the rights to August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play in 1987 for Eddie Murphy to star, though it took three decades — and Denzel Washington’s involvement — to get it made.

Matt Damon willed “Manchester by the Sea” into existence. The project originated when Damon commissioned a script from playwright Kenneth Lonergan (coming off a trying experience on “Margaret,” in which Damon played a small role). Though he had originally entertained the idea of starring in “Manchester” himself, Damon ultimately decided to give the lead role to longtime amigo Ben Affleck’s kid brother, Casey.

But of the three projects, the most remarkable is Barry Jenkins’ “Moonlight,” which found its patron saint in Brad Pitt. Jenkins had impressed the Hollywood community with his 2008 ultra-low-budget, black-and-white debut feature, “Medicine for Melancholy,” landing an agent at CAA and developing a handful of other projects that never went forward.

Then, at the 2013 Telluride Film Festival, Jenkins moderated a Q&A with director Steve McQueen for “12 Years a Slave,” where he met Pitt, one of that film’s producers via his Plan B shingle. Pitt was so impressed with Jenkins that he agreed to back an adaptation of Tarell Alvin McCraney’s unproduced play, “In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue.”

Needless to say, Hollywood doesn’t have much of a track record when it comes to greenlighting sensitive coming-of-age stories (unless they hail from hit YA novels), and those centered on African-American characters are rarer still. But Jenkins already had a champion in producer Adele Romanski. With the encouragement of Pitt and his Plan B partners, Dede Gardner and Jeremy Kleiner, it became possible that a movie as special as “Moonlight” might come through “the system,” shepherded by experienced hands who could ensure that it found a distributor (in A24) and wouldn’t get lost upon release.

There are those who argue that pundits shouldn’t make such a big deal about Chiron, the main character in “Moonlight,” being black. Or gay. And yet, it does matter, because Chiron reps such a rare, yet vital, voice on the American cinematic scene.

“Moonlight” isn’t a rap star biopic (à la “Straight Outta Compton” or “Get Rich or Die Tryin’”) or a Tyler Perry movie (one of the precious few black voices permitted to adapt non-Pulitzer-winning plays in Hollywood). And while it’s hardly the only film to shine a spotlight on contemporary black lives, nearly all the others are made on the margins, as independent productions without the resources or experience to break out of the African-American or LGBT festival circuit.

Jenkins’ film is masterful on its own terms and if one thing’s certain, there are more, equally essential stories out there waiting to be told. But until the studios see the value in stories like “Moonlight,” we can only hope the stars continue to align behind them.

More Film

  • steven spielberg Apple TV Plus

    Steven Spielberg's Apple Appearance Riles Up Social Media: 'Big Old Mixed Message'

    Many Hollywood heavyweights flocked to Apple’s Cupertino, Calif. headquarters to help reveal the tech giant’s revamped steaming service Apple TV+ on Monday — but one such legend was so polarizing he became a national trending topic on Twitter for simply showing his face. Steven Spielberg was the first to appear in a dramatic short film [...]

  • Michael Lynne

    Former New Line Co-Chairman Michael Lynne Dies at 77

    Michael Lynne, the former co-chairman of New Line Cinema who played a key role in shepherding the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, has died at his New York home. He was 77. Lynne’s death was confirmed Monday by longtime business partner Robert Shaye, who told Variety that Lynne’s family had informed him of Lynne’s passing [...]

  • Marisa Liston

    Sony Veteran Marisa Liston to Lead Lionsgate Movie Publicity

    Lionsgate has named Sony Pictures veteran executive Marisa Liston to lead all feature film and motion picture group publicity and communications strategy. Liston, who departed Sony in late 2018 after 17 years, has been assigned the newly created title of head of global earned media and communications. She will oversee domestic and international feature film [...]

  • Studios Spurn WGA Request to Ban

    Studios Reject WGA Request to Ban Non-Franchised Talent Agents

    Studios have rejected a request by the Writers Guild of America to bar talent agents if the current franchise agreement expires on April 7, saying it could expose them to extensive legal damages. The WGA will hold five days of member voting starting March 27 on a proposed “code of conduct” eliminating agency packaging fees [...]

  • Colin Firth

    Colin Firth's Fantasy-Drama 'The Secret Garden' Bought by STX

    STXFilms has acquired North American distribution rights to “The Secret Garden,” a movie adaptation of the beloved children’s novel that was in development at Global Road Entertainment for the past year. The film stars Oscar winner Colin Firth and Julie Walters. Marc Munden (“The Crimson Petal and the White”) directs from a script by Jack [...]

  • Frank Grillo Hell on the Border

    Frank Grillo Signs With CAA (EXCLUSIVE)

    “The Purge” star Frank Grillo has signed with CAA for representation, sources tell Variety. Grillo’s long list of credits includes “The Purge: Anarchy,” “The Purge: Election Year,” “Captain America: Winter Soldier,” “Captain America: Civil War,” “Wheelman,” and “Warrior.” On the TV side, he was the star of the Audience drama series “Kingdom,” which also starred [...]

  • The Top 10 Portrayals of Record

    Music Executives on Screen: 10 Memorable Movie Portrayals

    In the Netflix biopic “The Dirt,” Pete Davidson of “Saturday Night Live” fame portrays A&R exec Tom Zutaut, the man who signed Motley Crue to Elektra and Guns N’ Roses to Geffen, while veteran character actor David Costabile (“The Wire,” “Billions”) is manager Doc McGhee. They follow in a long and illustrious line of label [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content