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Local Playwright Turns Class Project Into Award-Winning Film 'Moonlight'

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MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Moonlight is a movie that has won the hearts of both critics and audiences alike.

This story that chronicles the life of a young, gay black man as he struggles to find his way on the mean streets of Miami has certainly touched a nerve with so many.

It all began on the page, written by Liberty City raised playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney, as a class project in drama school.

"It's personal. It's really intimate, it's an intimate story about Miami. There are things in it that are more crystal than memory," said McCraney. "I think the idea of it was brought together for me trying to put together my life as a kid growing up in Miami, growing up in Liberty City, what that was like, what my parents were like, what they were going through, what my role models were like."

"In the moments it feels too close, what I am made aware of is that closeness has allowed me to tell my story and allowed others to see themselves in my story and that's important," he said.

After sitting for years, the play first called "In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue" got into the hands of celebrated director Barry Jenkins, who also grew up in the same South Florida rough neighborhoods and wanted to turn it into a movie.

CBS4's Lisa Petrillo sat down to speak with McCraney recently while he was working with kids at the high school he graduated from in 1999: New World School of the Arts.

McCraney is still grappling with all the attention.

"We're taking this all one day at a time," McCraney said. "I know in creating the film Barry was really interested in making sure the film was as authentic and true as possible. All we wanted was to make sure there was something right about the story we wanted to tell. Our priority was that the story was real."

South Florida is a clear character in the film.

"There's things that happen in Miami that are caught in the visceral-ness," McCraney said. "That's why it couldn't have worked on stage. You have to get a real sense of what Miami feels like. There are moments where it's just wind and trees. There is something about Miami that's different than any other place."

For this 33-year-old writer, who's now the head of the Yale School of Drama Playwriting Department and still calls Miami home, working with these new generations of artists is, for him, what it's all about.

"They give me more than I give them," McCraney said. "I know they don't think so. They teach me more about where we need to go as a community as artists, not the other way around."

With eight Oscar nominations, we will find out how much gold Moonlight will bring in when the Academy Awards are handed out February 26th in Los Angeles.

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