Moonlight Script Teardown - Featured

Moonlight is a 2016 film that won the Academy Award for Best Picture. While it’s perhaps better known these days for the mix-up that ensued during the Oscar ceremony, the film itself is a breathtakingly beautiful tale that follows a young, black, gay man through childhood into early adulthood. There’s much screenwriters can learn from this superbly-crafted script. With a unique structure and expert character development, let’s take a look at what we can learn from the Moonlight script.

Moonlight Script PDF Download

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Barry Jenkins - Headshot

WHO WROTE THE MOONLIGHT MOVIE SCRIPT?

Written by Barry Jenkins

Barry Jenkins is an accomplished film director, screenwriter, and producer. His first feature-length movie was 2008’s Medicine for Melancholy, which he both wrote and directed. His next film, Moonlight, wouldn’t come for another eight years. The film would go on to win Academy Awards for Best Supporting Actor, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Picture.

As one of the best book-to-film adaptations, Jenkins’ film draws heavily from the semi-autobiographical play, In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue, written by Tarell Alvin McCraney. The play follows a young black boy growing up in Miami housing projects.

MOONLIGHT SYNOPSIS BREAKDOWN

STRUCTURE OF MOONLIGHT SCREENPLAY

Moonlight has a unique story structure because it’s divided into three distinct chapters. However, this means the film abides by a traditional three act structure, and while there are time jumps between each chapter, we can still ascertain all of the main plot beats you’d find in any other script.

Here is the story structure for the Moonlight 2016 script:

Exposition

Chiron, whom everyone calls “Little,” is chased by a group of boys his age. When he’s hiding, he meets Juan, who feeds him. Little doesn’t say much, but his glances when he’s asked about his home life say more than words ever could.

Inciting Incident

Juan takes Little out to the ocean where he tells him a story about growing up in Cuba. This Moonlight scene shows how no one can tell Little how he should live his life. That’s up to him to decide.

Plot Point One

Little has dinner with Juan. Here, Juan teaches him how to sit at a table. Little asks questions about sexuality, which Juan responds in a mature fashion. Juan is taking on more of a father figure role to Little.

Rising Action

We jump into the second chapter. Chiron/Little is now a high schooler. Bullies pick on him for being gay.

Midpoint

The midpoint occurs around Page 49 of the Moonlight screenplay. Chiron and his friend, Kevin, meet at the Miami Beach shore. They get high and confide in one another. The scene ends with the two kissing passionately, and Kevin engaging with Chiron sexually.

Plot Point Two

At school, Kevin and the group of bullies surround Chiron. The bullies encourage Kevin to beat up Chiron, which he does.

Build Up

Chiron refuses to rat out who beat him up to the principal. Instead, he takes a chair and smashes it over the bully’s head.

Climax

We’re now in chapter three. It’s many years later with Chiron, now going by “Black,” now a young adult. He goes to a diner to meet up with Kevin. During their conversation, Chiron admits he’s never been intimate with anyone since he was with Kevin on the beach.

Finale

Kevin and Chiron console one another, and we’re transported back to when Black was Little. He’s on the beach, back to his youth.

Moonlight Script Takeaway #1

Moonlight Quotes

What is the movie Moonlight about? One of the most pertinent themes in Moonlight is the idea of masculinity within the black community. We see robust displays of masculinity from many of the boys, and it’s the reason why Chiron is picked on throughout his life.

Even in the opening minutes where we see a group of boys chase Chiron, supposedly because he acts different. And it’s for this reason Chiron looks up to Juan as a mentor in his youth. Juan encapsulates many of people’s presupposed ideas concerning masculinity, but he does so authentically and doesn’t use masculinity to bring others down.

We imported the Moonlight PDF script into Studiobinder’s screenwriting software, so you can see this theme on full display. With the Moonlight script online, you can see for yourself how poignant such scenes become like this one. It is as difficult for Chiron to ask this question as it is for Juan to answer. Read the entire scene to see how this all plays out.

Moonlight Movie Quotes  •  Read Chiron and Juan’s Conversation

Juan is probably the first person to tell Chiron that it’s a bad word. He also tells him that he can absolutely be gay. Juan outright tells him, “You can be gay.” It’s a powerful moment, and you can see the emotion on display in the finished scene.

Moonlight Summary  •  Chiron Asks About Homosexuality

There are numerous other quotes that support this theme and show why Moonlight is one of the best films of the 21st century.

  • “I cry so much sometimes I turn to drops.”
  • “You're my only, and I'm your only.”
  • “I messed up. I fucked it all up, I know that. But your heart ain't gotta be black like mine, baby.”
  • “I knew you wasn't soft.”
  • “Let me tell you something, man. There are black people everywhere. Remember that, okay? No place you can go in the world ain't got no black people. We was the first on this planet.”
  • “You're the only man that's ever touched me. The only one. I haven't really touched anyone since.”

Moonlight Script Takeaway #2

Moonlight Characters

How do you introduce a new character to the audience? With a finished film, the audience can glean multiple pieces of information from a character. A person’s clothes or what they have in their refrigerator can tell us a lot about them. Jenkins knows that by including character details in the screenplay, he can communicate to everyone involved in making the movie what’s most important about this character.

So, how can you convey to readers everything you want them to understand about these characters as concisely as possible? Let’s take a look at how Barry Jenkins does it with the Moonlight full script.

Azu is a minor character in the film, but from just one line, you understand everything you need to about him.

Moonlight Characters  •  Read Multiple Character Introductions

Barry Jenkins could have used any word to describe Azu, but he went with the succinct, “Broken.” We get even more details through the description of his walk. He doesn’t merely “walk” to Juan. He “staggers.”

Every word is carefully chosen to paint a portrait of a man who’s lost a great deal. We can also look to see how Jenkins chooses to introduce us to Chiron/Little.

Moonlight Characters  •  Read Multiple Characters Introduction

Little is described as being “a runt.” Again, this is in service of the central themes concerning masculinity in the black community. We, as the audience, don’t know he’s gay yet. But we can see a clear differentiation in how Little looks compared to that of the other boys even in the finished scene. This sets the stage for Chiron's character development.

Moonlight Plot  •  Little Meets Juan

Moonlight doesn’t just tell you what a character is wearing or their age. With a few words, you feel like you understand these people thoroughly, and it makes for a great resource when you’re trying to figure out how to write character descriptions of your own.

Moonlight Script Takeaway #3

Moonlight Ending

The third chapter of Moonlight culminates in Chiron and Kevin holding one another. The image cuts to Chiron when he was a little boy, initially looking out at the ocean before turning toward the camera.

But how does Jenkins build up to that powerful moment?

Earlier in the script, we learn that Chiron has moved to Atlanta and has begun selling drugs. He’s adopted a persona that’s not him. Until one day, he gets a call out of the blue from Kevin who asks him to meet up.

Throughout much of their conversation, both men put up a facade. It’s only until the final moments of the film that they completely let their guard down and allow themselves to be vulnerable.

It’s only at this moment that we get the ultimate truth from the film.

Moonlight Ending  • Read Full Scene Here

When Black says, “You’re the only man who’s ever touched me,” he’s referred to it both on a sexual and emotional level. That moment the two of them shared on the beach as teenagers was probably the only time he allowed himself to be 100% himself, just as Juan wanted him to be.

After Kevin betrayed him, he retreated into something else. He lashed out in a moment of violence in his classroom and went on to adopt a more masculine persona.

Chiron may have turned himself into a buff drug dealer, but deep down, he’s the same insecure child he always was. He just wanted to be loved in some way. He couldn’t get it from his mother, and he only got it for the briefest of moments from Kevin.

Moonlight Plot  •  Ending Scene

Chiron and Kevin may not end up together, but that’s not the point. Chiron finally got a chance to express himself. The final shot of Little looking back shows he’ll continue living his true self. And in the moonlight, he’s blue.

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With our Moonlight script download, you can see how this Oscar-winning story began on the page. And if you want to continue reading award-winning screenplays, we have similar titles like Joker, Manchester By The Sea, and Casablanca in our screenplay database. Browse and download PDFs for all of our scripts as you read, write, and practice your craft to become the next great screenwriter.

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