INTERVIEW: Moonlight Co-Editor Joi McMillon

I remain a steadfast champion of reporting the good news and introducing great people. Despite what “they” might want “us” to believe, our race has done more than just weather the storms; we’ve excelled and have learned how to harness a bit of that wild natural energy called life.

When the 89th Oscars® nominations were announced, there was more than a few “firsts” for Moonlight which received eight nods including Film Editing for Joi McMillon and Nat Sanders.

This makes “Moonlight” co-editor Joi McMillon the first African-American woman to be recognized by the Academy for editing and director Barry Jenkins only the fourth African-American to be nominated for Best Director (John Singleton, Lee Daniels and Steve McQueen were prior nominees).

McMillon began her career working on Frankie Shaw’s breakout short film SMILF, which garnered Sundance’s 2015 US Short Jury Prize and is being adapted into a television pilot for Showtime. Her recent editing credits include season five of Lena Dunham’s HBO series Girls, Carson Mell’s  Another Evil (SXSW 2016), and Janicza Bravo’s upcoming feature film Lemon.

Moonlight marks McMillon’s second collaboration with Jenkins; they first worked together in 2011 on the short film Chlorophyl.

Oscar® nominated film editor Joi McMillion has a deep, earthy and infectious laugh — and she laughs a lot. Which means that I laughed, a lot during the interview. Here’s what the jovial nominee had to say about style and what makes her beautiful.

Q: When did you know what you really wanted to do for a living?

Joi McMillon: During High School, I went on a career day field trip to NBC-Universal and during the tour, we watched an editor for “Animal Planet,” who was working on an Avid. In the tutorial, he showed a clip of a person throwing a Frisbee and a dog, catching it…. Then he changed [the frisbee] into a ball. I thought that was one of the coolest thing that I had ever seen. I went home and begin looking up [information] on film schools because I knew, then, that I wanted to be an editor.

Q: What is the best advice that you received and what was the worst advice that you received?

JM: That is really hard ([aughing.] My best advice is to never give up on your dreams even though there are obstacles and challenges in your life because that’s exactly what I did and how I ended up here. The worst advice, is that a friend [once] advised that I tell a guy exactly what I feel about him. That did not go very well [laughing hard.] That was the worse advice. Keep it to yourself, that’s the lesson that I learned.

Q: What is the core of good storytelling?

JM: Truthfulness because it does not matter what world we are entering or what type of story that you are trying to tell if it’s grounded in honesty and truth. I feel that the audience will be on board with you go wherever you want to take them.

Q: Whose work has influenced you and why?

JM: I feel that I’ve been [creatively] influenced by a lot of people. Growing up in a very Christian family, a lot of the movies we grew up watching were Disney [films]. When I got to film school was I was exposed to all of these other films that I had not seen which my parents had protected me from. But when I got to film school, I experienced films like Three Colors Blue or Requiem for a Dream and Amélie. Obviously these films were, to me, so unique in the way they decided to tell these stories; they weren’t your typical story telling format.

They definitely caught my eye and I loved how there are multiple ways to tell a story, you don’t have to stick to just a traditional narrative. And those are usually the type of stories that I gravitate to like “Moonlight.” I just worked on a film called “Lemon” and these films are so refreshing because these directors are offering me new approaches to filmmaking and I think a lot of the audiences are exited by these films because they are asking you to think “outside the box” and experience this world in a whole new perspective.

Q: Who are your style icons?

JM: I love [the look of] Jackie O., Barbara Gilbert in Funny Girl and of course there is Iman. Can I be all three?

Q: What would people be surprised to find in your closet; and hat makes you beautiful?

JM: I would say what makes me beautiful is my spirit [laughter]. The energy that shines because, I feel that a lot of times people think that outward appearances are going to save you but if you have a good personality, a good spirit people are going to gravitate toward you, no matter what.

Q: Finish this sentence….”What I love about being an African-American woman is…?”

JM: Sometimes to be noticed you have to be extraordinary.