WGA awards: Importance of telling your story – particularly for minority groups


Moonlight was nominated for eight Oscars. Photo ontourtesy Plan B Entertainment

(BEVERLY HILLS, Calif.) — Although the Writers Guild of America, West (WGAW) Awards unfolded within the glamorous Beverly Hilton Hotel, the February 19 ceremony was loaded with speeches about public service, civic action, and the responsibility of a writer to stay true to his or her unique voice.

“I can’t say that writing will bring you closer to being on this stage,” said Moonlight writer-director Barry Jenkins, whose work won one of the night’s big prizes, “but I can say, from my own experience, that writing will bring you closer to who you are.”

Though Moonlight bested industry darling La La Land in the Original Screenplay category, it was drawn from an unproduced, semi-autobiographical play by Tarell Alvin McCraney and will compete this Sunday for a Best Adapted Screenplay Academy Award. The intensely intimate film follows the life of a young, black boy who struggles to transcend poverty and to make peace with his own sexuality.

Though Moonlight’s story is flooded with humanity and specificity, few would be quick to call it “mainstream” fare. The same might also be said for Atlanta—which, on the television end of the evening, took home not only the Best New Series award but also the trophy for Best Comedy Series.

Ern and the boys from Atlanta. Photo Courtesy: FX

“We’re first-time writers, a lot of us,” said Atlanta scribe Stephen Glover, who hit the stage with palpable enthusiasm, “and it’s just crazy that it worked out so [well]!”

Atlanta, a passion project from Community star Donald Glover, follows two cousins who juggle improving the lives of their families while pursuing success in rap music. With just 10 episodes under its belt, the freshman comedy has already picked up awards from the Golden Globes, the American Film Institute, and the Producers Guild of America.

Arrival—which deployed a brilliant female scientist, a thoughtful family drama, and a time-bending narrative to defy Hollywood notions of marketability—also found success on awards night, nabbing the prize for Best Adapted Screenplay.

“Stay curious, keep asking questions, and embrace critical thinking,” said Arrival’s screenwriter, Eric Heisserer. “It’s not only how great storytelling survives, it’s how science prevails.”

The courageous act of telling personal, and sometimes controversial, stories was even reflected by many of the evening’s career achievement award recipients. Upon introducing Laurel Award recipient Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing), actor Jeff Daniels drilled directly to the heart of the Sorkin experience and found a message for writers at large.

“Great writers have a singular voice, a command of the craft, and something to say,” Daniels said. “That’s Aaron.”

Later, writer-director Richard Curtis (Four Weddings and a Funeral) was presented with the guild’s Valentine Davies Award for Humanitarian Service. Curtis, who serves as co-founder and vice-chair of the famine relief initiative Comic Relief, encouraged the audience to set aside time for active community service.

“To make things happen, you have to make things,” Curtis said. “Whatever you do, I ask you to look at those busy diaries of yours…and make some little extraordinary thing that [could] change hearts and minds and raise some money.”

In the end, the WGAW awards proved to be as much about speaking up and living fully as they were about writing well. Academy Award-winning writer-director Oliver Stone, who received the guild’s Laurel Award for Screenwriting, offered potent advice to fellow storytellers who may be tempted to chase the market.

“Try to find not what the crowd wants so that you can be successful,” Stone said, “but try instead to find the true inner meaning of your life here on Earth.”



DAVID RADCLIFF is a member of the Committee for Writers with Disabilities at the Writers Guild of America, West. A script analyst for Amazon Studios and for Nickelodeon Studios, David has received top honors at the Austin Film Festival and has been a finalist for both the Disney Writing Program and the Sundance Episodic Story Lab. You can follow him on Twitter: @DavidRadcliff

4 Replies to "WGA awards: Importance of telling your story – particularly for minority groups"

  • comment-avatar
    Donald C. Wilson February 22, 2017 (7:45 am)

    I am an African American, senior citizen , disabled US Army Vet from the Viet Nam War and the Gulf War. One would assume that I would be welcome to join the screenwriters’ world. It is just the opposite!.. I cannot get an agent, studios will not reply to my query letters and those who are in the industry will not even consider extending me any help. I have written several novels, many screenplays and I am currently trying to promote my long term TV series, “The Winds Of Tomorrow’. This is an integrated series featuring a black family who switches from publishing a black weekly newspaper to and integrated daily. This series has a 2hour TV Pilot, 14 one-hour continuing episodes and a 2-hour Finale. This series has been adapted from my 500 page novel of the same title I self published several years ago. I am a former advertising manager at The Detroit News and a Director of Public Information for the City of Detroit. Any assistance would be welcomed!

    • comment-avatar
      Eda Lishman February 25, 2017 (5:02 pm)

      Your plea touched me. I do not know what i can do or how I can help. but, I can read and I have been a filmmaker all my life…and I hate it when talent can not get noticed. I do not have a lot of time..but if you are interested and you are patient – as long as your material is copyrighted and you give me the rights to read it… I am interested in looking at it. “You never know…”!

    • comment-avatar
      Warwick Occom March 6, 2017 (8:10 am)

      Hello Donald, I truly understand your frustration being a writer in the industry, it can be very selfish. As a filmmaker and a person of color not being recognized or ignored can make you give up. From one African American to another there are other options where you can forge your own path and we’ve done it.. I just read this article today and I am also interested in knowing more about you and your story. We just wrapped post production on our 12 episode tv series and would be interested in also reading “Winds of Tomorrow”. Please feel free to contact me if you are interested.

    • comment-avatar
      Warwick Occomy March 7, 2017 (8:26 am)

      Please feel free to contact me if you are interested, my email address is


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