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Why scripts with black leads are big right now

Why scripts with black leads are big right now

With the success of MOONLIGHT, GET OUT and many more, just why exactly are black leads in films and script in right now?

We’ve been noticing a trend recently among the leads and protagonists for films – more and more successful flicks have leading black characters. It seems like maybe the current state of the States is why these films are growing so well.

As well as Oscar winner MOONLIGHT, this year has seen the likes of GET OUT, which became the highest-grossing debut film of all time. Directed by Jordan Peele, and starring Daniel Kaluuya. A black director and black lead – this film shows the appetite for movies that tackle the issues of black identity in America in new and distinctive ways.

Halle Berry and Sam Jackson have both been driving forces this summer, but they’re already well-established black actors. The big one, for me, is Idris Elba in THE DARK TOWER. Originally in Stephen King’s books, Elba’s character, the Gunslinger, was white. Now people may complain about this being PC, but this shows the pull and power of black actors such as Elba that a studio is willing to alter a character’s race to positively benefit the film.

The new black led superhero film, BLACK PANTHER, is also coming soon and this represents how strong commercially black actors and black led scripts and films are becoming. Samuel L. Jackson, Morgan Freeman, and Denzel Washington have all been big names for years now. You can even go back to the 70s when Pam Grier was a mainstay in Blaxploitation cinema – this was hugely popular back in the day. But now more than ever, black actors are headlining huge Hollywood films.

Read more on black actors heating up the Summer scene here:

Based on the quality of the scripts and their commercial potential, our last two Grand Prize winners have coincidentally been black-led scripts – but then, maybe the extra edge of having a black lead helped dynamize these scripts in our eyes. For example, let’s look at our Spring 2017 and Winter 2016 Contest Grand Prize winners, RINGMASTER by Tory Williams and BLACKOUT.COM by Ruben Bush III.

Here’s their loglines…

RINGMASTER: “An African-American student enters an underground MMA tournament to pay his way through college.”

BLACKOUT.COM: “Two young African-American men find a unique and dangerous way to handle white supremacists and help their community.”

We believe these are particularly prescient scripts and concepts. And as our Elite Script Mentors Bobby Lee Darby and Nathan Brookes say “scripts with black leads are big right now”. Considering the current social, cultural, and political climate, we’d like to think that with the right script development support paying off, these scripts are right on the money.

If you have a black protagonist in your script – now is the time to get it out there – and with just over a week to go in our Summer Contest you can trust that we’d give it the attention it deserves.


Exclusive to WriteMovies – To syndicate this content for your own publication, contact ian (at) writemovies dot-com.

© WriteMovies 2017

Why Hollywood is ready for subtle storytelling at last. Part 3: The ARRIVAL of a new, subtler wave in cinema?

Why Hollywood is ready for subtle storytelling at last. Part 3: The ARRIVAL of a new, subtler wave in cinema?

Ian Kennedy continues to discuss the sublte storytelling reneaissence in cinema and how ARRIVAL could be the sign that this trend will continue…

In the cases of MOONLIGHT and MANCHESTER BY THE SEA, personally I appreciated them more than I enjoyed them! I can see why they were successful and critically acclaimed, but they never fully won me over. I took more of an interest in the film ARRIVAL, a film that applies similar subtlety in its storytelling techniques, but within the usually bombastic high-budget genre of sci-fi… and the ARRIVAL storytelling deserves a close look too.

Spoilers alert… this article will discuss the outcomes of the story in order to demonstrate how and why it works. 

On the face of it, ARRIVAL is about an alien invasion, but this extremely provocative scenario provides the vehicle for subtle implicit storytelling rather than an action-packed, over-the-top, blockbuster story in the usual style.

Instead of invading or threatening humans, alien ships simply hang in air in obscure places, waiting for us to travel to them and engage them. We, as a race, have to work out why they’ve shown up unannounced and, more strangely (to audiences, at least!), why they are seemingly serene and peaceful.

Our protagonist, Louise (Amy Adams), an expert in languages, is called upon to decipher the language of the aliens in an attempt to avert any possibility of interplanetary war against clearly superior opposition (or even against fellow nations). So this becomes a story, not about alien invasion, but about communication – about why we and other creatures need to reach out to one another to survive. Telling this story from female perspective with great subtlety makes it a far more stimulating and rewarding thought-experiment than the usual whizz-bang sci-fi fare.

In a clever manipulation of our expectations of storytelling, this film presents us with a series of flashbacks showing the bereavement of Louise. Only at the end of the film do we discover these are actually premonitions of what will happen to her, which are generated by her understanding the language that the aliens teach her, which enables us and them to predict the future, and link past, present, and future in ways we could not have imagined. The aliens finally reveal they’ve done this, not because they want to conquer us, but because in thousands of years they’ll need our help. War is averted – through their subtlety and inaction, they’ve negotiated a peace treaty with us.

Conventional sci-fi stories play out male obsessions with power, control, colonialism, war and exploration, whereas ARRIVAL embodies a more subtle and feminine approach to the profound questions of life which sci-fi is uniquely placed to explore. Although there is an explosion in middle of the film (something that is poorly explained and has limited consequences on the story), the real story explosion takes place in our mind and in the hearts of our main characters, as the clues fall into place and the scenario begins to make sense. This film intentionally confuses its audience, so that its reveal can be more mind-blowing to us.

MOONLIGHT, MANCHESTER BY THE SEA, ARRIVAL – in all 3 of these films, we see subtlety is used to reward intelligent audiences. Audiences who are tired of having their intelligence insulted by convention get rewarded for their patience, through stimulating and often powerful and unconventional stories.

MOONLIGHT winning Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay at the Academy Awards 2017 suggests critics, audiences and awards ceremonies are now more open to subtle and implicit films.

In return, these films have been rewarded by audiences, awards ceremonies, and critics – hopefully this signals the beginning of a new era of cinema and film storytelling, in which writers and audiences will be rewarded not through explosions or CGI action, but through the emotional and intellectual connection they make through the characters they’re watching. At WriteMovies, that suits us and scripts we love just fine. We look forward to sharing more of these with you in months and years ahead…



Exclusive to WriteMovies – To syndicate this content for your own publication, contact ian (at) writemovies dot-com.

© WriteMovies 2017

Example Studio Consulting: MOONLIGHT Script

Example Studio Consulting: MOONLIGHT Script

An example script consultancy on a reading of MOONLIGHT script, winner of Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay at the 2017 Oscars.

“This screenplay is beautifully written, the central theme elegantly expressed in an almost poetic style…” Extracts from a script report by our trainee Edward Smith, based on a reading of the MOONLIGHT script: CLICK HERE to read the script online from Simply Scripts.

This example report was completed by Edward Smith as part of his internship with us, which has recently been successfully completed.

 To see the full industry-standard format we use for Studio Coverage, either commission your own (CLICK HERE) based on the script you submit, or purchase The Confidential Studio Manual to get the inside track on how the industry will really assess and process your script (CLICK HERE)!



TITLE: MOONLIGHT                                    LOCALE: Miami, Atlanta

AUTHOR: Barry Jenkins                             SETTING: Urban U.S.

PERIOD: Present                                            FORM: SP

PRODUCER: N/A                                          BUDGET: Low


This screenplay is divided into three chapters, each focusing on a different stage of the protagonist’s life and titled after the name he is currently using; in the first part, aged twelve, he goes by the name LITTLE. Chased by a gang of bullies, he takes refuge in an abandoned crackhouse, where he is found by the drug dealer, JUAN. Little spends the night with Juan and his girlfriend, TERESA, and starts to become close to them because his own mother, PAULA, is neglectful of him.

When Juan discovers Paula doing drugs, they argue about raising Little, with Paula implying that he is gay. That night, having been confronted by Paula, Little goes to speak to Juan, asking him what the word “faggot” means and whether he is himself gay. Juan reassures him, but is then forced to admit, to his shame, that he is a drug dealer and that he has sold Paula drugs.

In the second chapter, the protagonist, now sixteen-years-old, goes by his real name, CHIRON. In the intervening years, Juan has died and Paula has become even more abusive, but Chiron still regularly visits Teresa. He is now struggling with his attraction to his friend, KEVIN, while also still coping with bullies – particularly his classmate, TERRELL…


This screenplay is beautifully written, the central theme elegantly expressed in an almost poetic style. It deals with an oft-overlooked issue, studying what it is like to be a gay black man, charting the struggles the protagonist faces in establishing his own identity in a culture that is hostile to his sexuality; this is dealt with both delicately and realistically thanks to the high quality of the writing…

By portraying three distinct stages of Chiron’s life, we are able to see the intricacies of his situation and better understand how he develops as a character. He is forced to change because of the physical and emotional abuse he suffers, with very few nurturing figures to help him. From being a gentle, vulnerable child, he violently lashes out against his bullies and eventually reinvents himself as a drug dealer to hide who he truly is. In the end, he is only able to come to terms with his sexuality because of Kevin’s influence, bringing him full circle back to his true self after all the challenges he has faced.

Each chapter also has its own, miniature three act structure. For example, the first chapter has an inciting incident when Little meets Juan; the first act sees them become attached to one another, the second develops their relationship, and the third deals with the conversation between them when Little asks about being gay. Similarly, the other two chapters also have a three act structure, allowing each one to stand on its own as an independent story – albeit strengthened and given context by the others.

 To see the full industry-standard format we use for Studio Coverage, either commission your own (CLICK HERE) based on the script you submit, or purchase The Confidential Studio Manual to get the inside track on how the industry will really assess and process your script (CLICK HERE)!

John Sullivan’s 2017 Oscars Reaction

John Sullivan’s 2017 Oscars Reaction

Here’s our 2017 Oscars reaction… by John Sullivan

Well, that was unexpected… Another Oscars night to remember, but this time for all the wrong reasons. The glitz and the glamor of the awards became overshadowed by a massive screw up during the Best Picture announcement. But we’ll come back to that. Now that the results are in (unless I have the wrong card, too…) we can take a look at how the night went… I think we all know how it went. (more…)

2017 Oscars Predictions: Adapted and Original Screenplays

2017 Oscars Predictions: Adapted and Original Screenplays

Here are our 2017 Oscars predictions for the Adapted and Original Screenplays… by John Sullivan

The Oscars buzz is growing… are you ready? Me too! Got your invitation to the ceremony? No, me neither… It’s OK, though, we can still have a bit of fun predicting who will take home one of those little golden men. Best Picture seems obvious, though. And we can probably guess Best Actors. Screenplays? Hey, that’s our thing! So, place your bets for this Sunday, here’s my predictions for which scripts will end up winning… (more…)