Universal Claims ‘American Gangster’ Is Not an Adapted Screenplay?

From left, American Gangster’s poster; New York, August 14, 2000.Courtesy of Universal Pictures.

Sure, in years past we’ve noticed the annual screenplay dance that Oscar contenders do, committing obvious category fraud in blatant attempts to position their screenplays in the categories where they have a better crack at a nomination. We chuckled when O Brother, Where Art Thou? was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay, even though the Coen brothers bragged they’d never actually read The Odyssey. We laughed when Syriana was nominated for Best Original Screenplay, even though it was based on Robert Baer’s book See No Evil. But we never thought such evil would strike so close to home!

Variety’s Red Carpet District blog reports that Universal is positioning American Gangster as an original screenplay, even though it is based on Mark Jacobson’s New York Magazine piece “The Return of Superfly.” As in, the producers optioned the article, hired Steven Zaillian to write a screenplay, and made a movie out of it. Universal is claiming, according to Variety, that since Russell Crowe’s character was only a minor part of Jacobson’s article, the movie is not truly an adapted work. We call BS!

From the closing credits of American Gangster.Courtesy of Universal Pictures.

Of course the movie isn’t exactly like the article; that’s why they call it “adapted screenplay,” not “magazine article read aloud in movie form.” And we couldn’t help but notice that in the movie’s own closing credits, the article is cited! “Based on the article ‘The Return of Superfly’ by Mark Jacobson,” the credits say. But no, no, it’s not “adapted.”

We’re not going to go so far as to recommend that Academy members vote for American Gangster in the non-recommended category; that’s a recipe for split votes and a nomination snub, which wouldn’t serve Jacobson at all. But surely Universal should do the right thing and admit that a magazine article great enough to pay a bunch of money to option — and to specifically name in the movie’s credits — is surely one that should be acknowledged come awards time.

Screenplays With Mag Article Influence Go Original [Red Carpet District/Variety]
Related: The Return of Superfly [NYM]

Universal Claims ‘American Gangster’ Is Not an Adapted Screenplay?