Although one of the biggest Oscar stories ever happened on TV last night, a couple of much more monumental stories had played out a few weeks before when the nominations were announced.
On January 24, 2017, Joi McMillon became the first black woman nominated in the Best Film Editing category for “Moonlight.” It had been almost 50 years since a black person’s name had appeared in the category. At the same time, Bradford Young became the first black American nominated in the Best Cinematography category for “Arrival.”
The Academy Awards have been presented annually for nearly 88 years. (It was held twice in one year, hence last night being the 89th presentation.)
It’s a landmark for black people & women working behind the camera. Women were originally the ones tasked with editing film because it required laboriously cutting and piecing actual film, a task most believed to be too menial and too delicate for men’s hands. When editing equipment was introduced, women were phased out due to the now technical nature of the job. Black people never had particular access to White Hollywood, instead having to build their own film industries (see Oscar Micheaux, BHM Day 9).
To have received her honor on a film with such an intersectional & culturally diverse story as “Moonlight” is especially significant for Joi McMillon who said that “what acknowledgment and consideration bring to the film is validity. And I think the recognition by the Academy is telling them, ‘We hear your voice, and we’re paying attention to your voice, and we want you to continue to be heard.’”
For Bradford though, recognition for his work on “Arrival” is more bittersweet. His struggle reflects a complicated view that black America holds towards not just the Academy, but also toward the America we live in. What he says about it is just one reason that the stories we share during Black History Month serve a much greater purpose:
“The fact that I’m the first is only a reflection of [the Academy’s] failure to see us, which is our continuous struggle—just see me. If you just see me, you get to know me, then you’ll see that there have been many bodies, many spirits, many souls that should’ve been honored before.”