“American Fiction” Writer Cord Jefferson Implores Hollywood to Take More Risks as He Wins Oscar

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The other nominees were Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach for 'Barbie', Christopher Nolan for 'Oppenheimer', Tony McNamara for 'Poor Things' and Jonathan Glazer for 'The Zone of Interest'

<p>Kevin Winter/Getty Images</p> Cord Jefferson accepts the Best Adapted Screenplay award for "American Fiction" onstage during the 96th Annual Academy Awards at Dolby Theatre on March 10, 2024 in Hollywood, California.

Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Cord Jefferson accepts the Best Adapted Screenplay award for "American Fiction" onstage during the 96th Annual Academy Awards at Dolby Theatre on March 10, 2024 in Hollywood, California.

Cord Jefferson made a plea to Hollywood after winning the Best Adapted Screenplay for American Fiction at the 2024 Academy Awards.

The other nominees in the category were Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach for Barbie, Christopher Nolan for Oppenheimer, Tony McNamara for Poor Things and Jonathan Glazer for The Zone of Interest.

He began, “This means the world to me. Thank you so much to the Academy, thank you so much to everybody who worked on the film.”

“I’ve been talking a lot about how many people passed on this movie and discussing it and I worry that sometimes [it] sounds vindictive, and I don’t want to be vindictive, I’m not a vindictive person anymore,” Jefferson continued. “I’ve worked very hard to not be vindictive anymore.” 

Related: Oscars 2024 Winners List (Live Updates)

<p>Claire Folger</p> Jeffrey Wright in 2023's American Fiction

Claire Folger

Jeffrey Wright in 2023's American Fiction

Jefferson then implored Hollywood to take more risks in filmmaking.

“And it’s more a plea — it’s a plea to acknowledge and recognize that there are so many people out there who want the opportunity that I was given.... I understand that this is a risk-averse industry, I get it,” he said.

“But $200 million dollar movies are also a risk, you know?” he added. “And it doesn’t always work out but you take the risk anyway. And instead of making one $200 million dollar movie, try making 20 $10 million dollar movies or 50 $4 million dollar movies. Like, you can — there are so many people, I just feel so much joy being here, I felt so much joy making this movie, and I want other people to experience that joy, and they’re out there I promise you.”

“The next Martin Scorsese’s out there, the next Greta’s out there — both Gretas, the next Christopher Nolan’s out there I promise you. They just want a shot and we can give them one and this has changed my life. Thank you all who worked on this movie for trusting a 40-year-old Black guy who has never directed anything before. It’s changed my life, thank you — I love you all, thank you so much.”

Related: Jeffrey Wright Plays an Author Who Unwittingly Writes a Hit in American Fiction Trailer

<p>Claire Folger</p>

Claire Folger

Jefferson wrote American Fiction, which he also directed, based on Percival Everett’s 2001 novel titled Erasure.

The film stars Jeffrey Wright as Thelonious “Monk” Ellison, an author who grows frustrated that his books don't sell while books written by other Black writers who indulge in stereotypes perform better. He writes a novel titled My Pafology that parodies these books under the pen name Stagg R. Leigh and gets into a web of lies, and consequences follow when the book grows into a hit.

“Twenty pages in, I knew I had to write a film adaptation,” Jefferson told The New York Times of reading Erasure. “By the time I finished the book, I knew I had to direct it.”

Related: American Fiction: The Biggest Changes Between the Book Erasure and New Movie Starring Jeffrey Wright

<p>Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures</p> Ana Cruz Kayne, Sharon Rooney, Alexandra Shipp, Margot Robbie, Hari Nef and Emma Mackey in 2023's Barbie

Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures

Ana Cruz Kayne, Sharon Rooney, Alexandra Shipp, Margot Robbie, Hari Nef and Emma Mackey in 2023's Barbie

Jefferson's fellow nominees Gerwig, 40, and her husband Baumbach, 54, wrote Barbie during the first year of the COVID pandemic. At a Q&A for the film in New York City in November, Gerwig recalled that writing the movie during an uncertain time in the world and the film industry inspired them to craft the movie's bold story.

"We were writing it when no one was going to movies and there were no movies and no one was making movies," Gerwig recalled. "There was also a feeling of 'There's no movies, nobody's making anything.' So there was this sort of go-for-broke quality in how we did it. Then once we were doing it, we felt like, 'We love this — and also, definitely no one will ever let us make this.' "

Related: Greta Gerwig Reveals It Was Suggested She Cut Emotional ‘Barbie’ Scene Where Margot Robbie Cries

<p>Universal Pictures</p> Cillian Murphy in 2023's Oppenheimer

Universal Pictures

Cillian Murphy in 2023's Oppenheimer

Nolan wrote Oppenheimer — for which he is also nominated as Best Director — based on the 2005 Robert J. Oppenheimer biography American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of Robert J. Oppenheimer. The movie, which stars Cillian Murphy as the eponymous Manhattan Project physicist, received 13 total nominations at the Oscars, the most among all movies.

Nolan wrote Oppenheimer's screenplay from a first-person point of view, which he told Empire back in May 2023 was highly unusual for his own writing.

"I don't know if anyone's ever done it before. But the point of it is, with the color sequences, which is the bulk of the film, everything is told from Oppenheimer’s point of view — you’re literally kind of looking through his eyes," he said.

Related: 'Oppenheimer' PEOPLE Review: Christopher Nolan's Epic About the Father of the Atom Bomb Is Stunning

<p>Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures</p> Emma Stone in 2023's Poor Things

Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures

Emma Stone in 2023's Poor Things

McNamara reunited with Poor Things director Yorgos Lanthimos and star/producer Emma Stone after writing the pair's 2018 movie, The Favourite (he also contributed to Stone's 2021 Disney movie Cruella).

McNamara, 57, received his first Oscar nomination for The Favourite; he adapted Poor Things from the 1992 novel of the same name by Scottish author Alasdair Gray.

At the movie's New York City premiere in December, McNamara told PEOPLE he "just looked for where the story [is]" while adapting the book.

"The novel is huge, but this piece of the novel and this premise of the young woman who gets a child's brain in her head was sort of — what Yorgos wanted to do was that Frankenstein element, but really tell the story of a young woman going through life without any of society's stuff in her head and how she would do that and how she would create herself," he said. "Then you get Emma Stone and you've got something pretty great."

Related: Poor Things: The Biggest Differences Between the Book and Emma Stone Movie

<p>Courtesy of A24</p> Christian Friedel and Sandra Hüller in 2023's The Zone of Interest

Courtesy of A24

Christian Friedel and Sandra Hüller in 2023's The Zone of Interest

Director Glazer wrote The Zone of Interest based on author Martin Amis's 2014 novel of the same name. Both the novel and the movie are inspired by real-life Nazi officer Rudolf Höss, who was in charge of the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland during the Holocaust.

The movie follows Höss (Christian Friedel), his wife Hedwig (Sandra Hüller) and their family as they live their lives just yards away from death and suffering inside the concentration camp.

Glazer told The Guardian in December the "reason I made this film is to try to restate our close proximity to this terrible event that we think of as in the past."

"For me, it is not ever in the past, and right now, I think something in me is aware — and fearful — that these things are on the rise again with the growth of rightwing populism everywhere," Glazer said. "The road that so many people took is a few steps away. It is always just a few steps away."

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