Success Saturdays: Joi McMillon

Image: Joi McMillon (right) alongside co-editor for “Moonlight,” Nat Sanders (left). Image taken from DP/30: The Oral History of Hollywood via Youtube.

Film Editor Joi McMillon has been stunning the world with her work in the 2016 masterpiece “Moonlight” – a film that explores the life of a poor gay Black kid, capturing his uncertainties, and struggles for connection. The film has a near perfect score on Metacritic, has won hundreds of awards, and is in the running for 8 Oscars, including one for McMillon and coworker Nat Sanders in Best Film Editing. It has been described as a “small miracle” of a film, beautifully crafted in every way.

Even more incredible is that “Moonlight” is the first feature film McMillon has worked on, and she’s making history for it: McMillon is the first Black woman ever nominated for an Oscar in Film Editing.

McMillon attended film school at Florida State University, where she became friends with the people who she would eventually work with as the director, co-editor, and producer of “Moonlight.” McMillon said of her excitement joining the project, because she knew director Barry Jenkins “was going to tell a story that would shake up the world.”

McMillon encountered many obstacles to get where she is, due to the difficulties being a Black woman in Hollywood. Though she did a lot of interviews for films, she faced rejection many times before getting her “big break” in the movie that is now an Oscar favorite. These losses never discouraged her, and she became more determined.

Editing and other behind-the-camera work are a lot less glamorous than the jobs of actor and director, but are no less important. Film editing is far more than merely cutting scenes, as it essentially pulls the entire story together. It is up to editors to make the story cohesive and easy-to-follow, as well as to fix small mistakes made during production. Emotion can effectively be pulled from a piece by the way different shots are placed to lead into each other. Thus, editing can set the entire mood of a film.

There is a lack of women at all levels of film production in Hollywood. Only 17% of the 250 highest-grossing film of 2016 were edited by women, a study at San Diego State University found. This is starting to change, and women and people of color are slowly getting more recognition for their parts in film production. In 2016, the Oscar for Best Film Editing went to a white woman, Margaret Sixel.

Happily busy at work, Mcmillon’s has a few projects lined up. Her most recent work is the film “Lemon,” which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in late January.

However, there is still a long way to go for women of color in Hollywood. McMillon knows this, and is conscious of the fact that she will be an example for many due to her achievement this year. She hopes that her achievements will get more black women into the industry, and has even been mentoring other black women editors. Showing an incredible spirit, McMillon makes her historic nomination not solely about herself, but about all the others that can and will come after her.

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