'Moonlight' Editor Joi McMillon Is Making History

Tommaso Boddi/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

If there's one 2017 Oscar nominee we need to be talking more about, it's Joi McMillon. You may be wondering, who is Moonlight's Joi McMillon? She was nominated for Best Film Editing for her work on the indie hit and made history by being the first black woman nominated in the editing category — ever. For reference, the Oscars have been around for nearly 90 years. As a history-maker, McMillon has drawn attention to the need for those who discuss diversity in film to understand that it's not just the fields of acting and directing where women work and, thus, deserve recognition.

To be clear, I am ecstatic that McMillon is nominated, furthermore is nominated for her work on Moonlight, and finally that her nomination is gathering steam for the implications it brings to the conversation around diversity in the Oscar nominations across all categories.

Before I even begin to parse out her greater impact, let's just celebrate McMillon, plain and simple. McMillon's previous editing credits indicate she is more than deserving of the attention she is getting from her now Oscar-nominated work on Moonlight. Credits include: Sausage Party, Mr. Church, Why Did I Get Married Too?, and Girls. McMillon's role as editor on Moonlight, though, means that she was in charge of putting the film together.

While the work of a film editor is technically challenging, the editor of any given film does play a major in role in the art of the film itself. The editor must work with all departments — sound, photography, directing, and so forth — to bring together a coherent film. The voice and eye of a film editor thus becomes stamped onto the film in question, just as much as the voice and eye of any other creative working on the project. This means that, if you saw Moonlight, you were not only seeing the creative voice of director Barry Jenkins and co-writer Tarrell Alvin McCraney at work, you were also seeing McMillon's too. (Her fellow editor, Nat Sanders, is also nominated.)

For McMillon's creative voice to be stamped onto such a critically acclaimed and important film as Moonlight is incredible. But getting recognized in a category where she is literally the only woman nominated makes this accomplishment even more noteworthy. That's not to diminish her artistic value or simply make an example out of her as a person; what I mean is that McMillon's nomination is calling into question just how much the film industry and society at large care about women in film when they are not actors or directors. Do we actually give a fig about diversity in all fields of film? Or is it simply enough to settle for diversity in acting and call it a day?

Earlier this week, my Bustle colleague Olivia Truffaut-Wong rightfully called to attention the small gains and big changes that needed to come when we spoke about diversity in the "big five" Oscar categories. While the 2017 Oscars marks a watershed moment for the four acting categories (a black actor is nominated in each category for the first time in Oscars history), that conversation doesn't tend to extend to the need to diversify — in gender, race, sexual identity, etc. — in the lesser-known categories which honor below-the-line work.

Below-the-line film jobs include a vast number of roles, including film editing, and essentially refer to any job that isn't a director, producer, actor, or writer. Below-the-line jobs, while just as essential to the creation of a film as above-the-line jobs, can get snubbed when it comes to conversations about diversity. Hell, they can get snubbed in basic conversations around film; how many hot think-pieces have you read in the last few weeks on, for example, why Arrival's Sylvain Bellemare should win Best Sound Editing?

The blind spot we have in recognizing the importance of below-the-line jobs in film is one thing that needs to be remedied. It is an entirely other matter (just as important though) to discuss why we need to push for greater diversity and recognition of those people working in below-the-line jobs on film in the same ways in which we push for greater diversity for above-the-line jobs.

As for McMillon's impact in bringing attention to this blind spot, consider this: If one of the arguments around bringing diversity to various areas of the film industry (but primarily in acting and directing) is that diversity equals better representation of those people who have been historically underserved and unfairly represented, then why not bring greater diversity to below-the-line jobs, like film editing, where the film is literally and creatively being shaped too? It's food for thought. For now, I just hope that McMillon's nomination sets a trend rather than becoming a footnote in Oscars history.