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Oscars 2017: Joi McMillon Talks Diversity, Obstacles + #OscarsSoWhite

Photo of Joi McMillon courtesy of Huffington Post Black Voices.

The Oscars are just a few days away, my friends, and the energy on-and-offline is highly contagious. From Essence‘s 10th Annual Black Women in Hollywood event to all the #OscarsBlackAF joy to seeing countless nominees up for awards in numerous categories — this year’s ceremony feels a bit different than past events. In part thanks to a lead editor named Joi McMillon who helped to turn Barry Jenkins‘ semi-autobiographical, coming-of-age story into a tour de force in the box office + a “Best Picture” nominee.

With no aspirations to even be an editor (she really wanted to be a journalist for the Orlando Sentinel) — life took this Florida native into the world of Avid programs + Apple Final Cut Pro. While it appears that the changes Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs has made are beginning to pay off, most Americans have only been celebrating the record number of black performers in front of the camera. Thankfully, the successes of Ms. Joi McMillon and Mr. Bradford Young (Arrival) have forced the conversation to take place behind the camera as well.

McMillon also hopes to inspire a host of young newcomers to learn more about the BTS work of Hollywood filmmaking after becoming the first black woman to be nominated for an Academy Award for editing in acknowledgment of her work on Moonlight. For those who haven’t seen the Miami-set picture about a black boy struggling with his sexuality, Moonlight was Joi’s first job as a lead editor after more than 10 years being second on editing teams. We were fortunate enough to get a few moments of her time, as she spoke with us on the phone about where she was at when she got the nomination call, why diversity in Hollywood will continue to be a big ticket issue and how Requiem for a Dream helped to open up her eyes in a cinematic way. Enjoy!

Okayplayer: I am glad that I was able to get you on the line, Ms. McMillon. First, I wanted to say congratulations on your historic nomination.

Joi McMillon: Thank you so much.

OKP: As being the first black woman to be nominated for “Best Editing” — can you talk a bit about how you got your start in the industry? Plus, what obstacles have you overcome over the course of your career?

JM: Sure, I graduated from Florida State University. Then I did an internship with the America Cinema Editors when I first moved out to Los Angeles. I did that for about two-and-a-half years, working in reality television. Then from there, I entered into the world of scripted television. I worked on the first season of The Sarah Silverman show. After that I was hired by Carolyn Shropshire to be her apprentice editor on a film called Talk To Me, which starred Don Cheadle and was for Focus Features. Ever since then, I have been primarily working in feature films.

I would say the biggest obstacle for me was actually becoming an editor because I have been a first assistant editor for quite some time. I’ve been fortunate enough to work with very talented editors like Macy HoyNancy Richardson and Curtis Clayton over the course of my career. Just making that jump from first assistant editor to editor in features is really hard to do. It took this opportunity from Barry [Jenkins] to be my first editing gig and that happened because he trusts me and he knows the work that I’m capable of.

I often say, if it wasn’t for Barry, I don’t know when my first editing gig might have actually happened.

OKP: At least you got into it as soon as you did because it has paid off greatly.

JM: Thank you so very much. I think that that is another thing with editing. There is no clear cut path. There is some people who assist until they’re in their 40s and finally get an opportunity to become an editor. I know it is definitely hard to do and I am thankful for the opportunity that I was afforded.

OKP: Now, when the nominations were announced, where were you, how did you react and who was the first person you called?

JM: I actually was at Sundance for another feature that I edited called, Lemon, that was directed by Janicza Bravo. It was premiering at Sundance, so I was up at Park City, Utah. [When I heard the news] I was actually on the phone with my little sister and she was the one to tell me that I was nominated. We all screamed! We both screamed together. The first person I called after that was my dad to tell him.

OKP: For those looking to enter into the field of editing and production can you explain the difference in time management for reality TV versus scripted television versus feature films?

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