The movers and creatives of Moonlight have left audiences inspired beyond belief. From the loveable Ashton Sanders and Alex Hibbert to the poise of Mahershala Ali, the cast and crew have made this Black History Month, it’s best “season” yet. Another member of the Moonlight family has also made history of her own when she became the first African-American woman to be nominated in the editing category.
Joi McMillon has been sharing her story since the Oscar nominations were announced last month, but the Florida native has gotten more attention since the film took home three Academy Awards Sunday (Feb. 26), including Best Picture. McMillion shared her journey with the Los Angeles Times on the ins and outs of her profession and what she’s learned after making the jump from reality television to feature films. “These groups are so specific, almost like cliques, so literally once you meet the right person, it’s a whole new world for you,” she said. “For me, it was hard to break into scripted and features because I didn’t know anyone.” After working on reality and scripted shows like The Surreal House and The Sarah Silverman Show, McMillion went on to work for several Tyler Perry films, a joyful opportunity that appeared as a footnote to higher ups.
“Everyone kept saying, “You don’t have the right credits or no feature film credits,” she said. “You’ve done a lot of Tyler Perry movies.” I just wasn’t getting the job.” After co-editing Moonlight with Nat Sanders, McMillion has learned plenty of lessons she’ll take on her future projects. “I think one of the lessons I learned was allowing the footage to speak to you,” she said. “Sometimes as an editor, you’re trying to pace things up to keep the audience engaged, but I think we learned to just allow moments to breathe and allow the audience to become acquainted with the surroundings. When we were cutting the diner scene, I was slightly nervous that we were lingering too long, but a lot of people tell me that they love being in that diner. You have to trust your instinct and your gut. Barry would always say, “Don’t break it. It feels good.” You’ve got to listen to that feeling.”
For now, McMillion is wrapping up editing on the film The Glass Castle and then going on a well-deserved break.