Joi McMillon Academy Awards Moonlight

Joi McMillon

photo: Getty Images

Joi McMillon made history on January 24 when she became the first Black woman to earn an Oscars nomination for film editing. While she's the first, McMillon is committed to not being the last elite Black female editor.

"I've been mentoring some other Black female editors, and putting their resumes out there, and putting them up for jobs," she told Revelist. McMillon added that many kids, especially Black girls, aren't exposed to opportunities behind the camera.

"As they say, knowledge is power, so we need to reach children at an early age and expose them to the other side of filmmaking besides just being in front of the camera," she said. "There's a lot of awesome jobs behind the camera."

Overall, there are few behind-the-scenes opportunities for women. San Diego State University's Center for Women in Film & Television found that just 17% of all editors for 250 of the top grossing films of 2016 were women.

However, before editing "Moonlight," McMillon wasn't an in-demand film editor either. She, like many Black women in the film industry, encountered major obstacles.

"Moonlight" is McMillon's first feature film. Before that, she worked as an assistant editor on other movies like "Madea's Witness Protection" and "Why Did I Get Married Too?" Her road to "Moonlight" has been filled with barriers.

"I would say one of the career lows is, prior to 'Moonlight,' I had interviewed with other feature films," she said. "Every single time I interviewed, I just felt like, 'that interview went really. I think I'm going to get this film.' To find that out that I wasn't picked to do it was such a bummer."

However, McMillon didn't allow those hurdles to dissuade her from pursuing her dream.

"It didn't discourage me," she said. "It only kept me focused on one day getting that editing position."

McMillon said that editing "Moonlight" has been the highlight of her career thus far.

photo: GIPHY

She has known director Barry Jenkins, co-editor Nat Sanders, and producer Adele Romanski, since they were all in film school together at Florida State University. The close friends vowed to create a feature film together — and "Moonlight" provided them the opportunity to do just that.

"I remember when Barry [Jenkins] and Nat [Sanders] told me they wanted me to come on as an editor, I was so, so excited because I knew Barry was going to tell a story that was going to shake up the world," she said. "So, the collaboration process was very open and honest and we just respected each other so much, we just wanted to hear each other's opinions."

That collaborative effort now has eight Academy Award nominations, including the aforementioned nod for best editing.

Next up for McMillon is "Lemon," a film that premiered at the Sundance Film Festival on January 22.

"Lemon" is Janicza Bravo's directorial debut, but it's already generating buzz at Sundance and the Rotterdam Film Festival. 

"I'm excited for people to experience [Janicza Bravo's] work," McMillon said. "She's also another talented female director who, one day, the world will definitely be talking about. They've already started talking about her, so it's just a matter of time before the spotlight's on her."

She's also working with Sanders on "The Glass Castle," a forthcoming Lionsgate film directed by Destin Cretton.

It's only up from here for Joi McMillon — and the Black women film editors she's holding the door open for.