This Women’s History Month, we’re highlighting the oft unsung yet always vital contributions of those working below the line. Join NYWIFT blog contributors Kathryn O’Kane and Mellini Kantayya as they celebrate a few of the many women in history and making history—“Below the Line: A Cut Above.”
By Mellini Kantayya
Joi McMillon made Oscar history in 2018 when she became the first African American woman nominated for Best Achievement in Film Editing for Moonlight. McMillan shared the nomination with Nat Sanders, who she also partnered with to edit the audience and critically acclaimed film If Beal Street Could Talk.
McMillon’s career path is an inspiration for those of us trying to cross over genres and break through barriers. She began her career as an assistant editor in reality TV and then, later, weaved in experience editing narrative shorts (including SMILF, which went on to be adapted to the Showtime series of the same name) and episodic television.
This road to the Oscars wasn’t straight or smooth. She weathered many disappointments before director Barry Jenkins asked her to edit Moonlight. McMillon said, “It’s one of those things where I’d been rejected so often on jobs that I felt were a good fit and the director and I had a good rapport, and the material spoke to me, only to be told ‘no’ a few weeks later. They’d say they’d gone with someone else, and it was interesting because a lot of times…they would say, ‘He is just a really good fit,’ or, ‘We’d worked with him before.’ I was hearing ‘he’ and ‘him’ and I was like, ‘Oh, this is who I’m losing these opportunities to.'”
Moonlight became the first feature film she had edited. It went on to win the Oscar for Best Picture, making her nomination and accolades all the more impressive. McMillon expressed her appreciation by saying, “We maybe didn’t win in our individual categories…To me the first feature that you ever edit wins Best Picture… I still feel like I sometimes pinch myself. Like is this my life? Is this really happening? Because it’s one of those things where the hard work paid off and that’s sometimes not always the case…I’m so proud of the film.”
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