It was not strange to work under white people ten years my senior when I was 18. Around 30, however, I was enraged that I routinely interviewed to work under people who were slightly younger –or the same age– and less credentialed. The moment you realize your graduate degree is no match for your boss’s B.A. in music, you begin to question how “post-racial” we are. Joi McMillon, a black woman, knew very well the rage that stems from seeing whites with less qualifications advance while she did not. She was told she lacked the right experience while her less qualified white peers were advancing. But Joi will not experience that rage again. She is a film editor who made history with her Oscars nomination for her work on Moonlight; a film based on the writing of two black men, directed by a black man with a black cast. The self determination of black people ended Joi’s frustration, not the benevolence of whites.
In a world where discrimination and disparities abound, it is critical that black people create our own opportunities and support those endeavors as a community. Joi was nominated for an academy award precisely because of such an endeavor. Sean Combs became a music mogul only because Uptown Records, a company founded by a black man, gave the young college dropout the opportunity to become a talent director. It is doubtful that Combs would have been given the same opportunity at another major label. In the same way, Moonlight is a work of black self determination which afforded McMillon the opportunity to finally move up from “first assistant editor” into the editor’s role. The quality of her work is obvious, for even the Academy had to give her a nod. McMillon never lacked talent but simply opportunity, in a white male-dominated film industry. Rather than waiting for acknowledgment from benevolent white people, the creators of Moonlight created an opportunity for Joi.
Moonlight’s excellence led to their infamously delayed Oscars award. That mixup was far less controversial than Jada Pinkett-Smith igniting the #OscarsSoWhite firestorm. While several have opined that Pinkett-Smith’s motives may not have been pure (oddly, Denzel failed to take home an Oscar this year and Jada raised no fuss), we should not discount what Jada actually said when she told the world, “Maybe it is time…we make programs for ourselves that acknowledge us in ways we see fit.” Also, “Begging for acknowledgement or even asking, diminishes dignity and diminishes power.” Moonlight fulfills much of Jada’s sentiments. We should appreciate that the Academy (after some delay) awarded Moonlight best picture but only celebrating that misses the larger significance of the film. Moonlight gives us yet another model of what we should all be striving toward in every industry. In a world in which even black people with a college degree are more than twice as likely to be unemployed than our non-black peers, we need strong black institutions and creative ventures, brought about by our own self-determination.
There is only one thing that could have made Moonlight even more triumphant and that is if the movie was also financed by our community. By no fault of their own, the creators of the film had to seek financing from outside of our community and thankfully, they found it through A24, an Indie distributor. Still, we must continue striving to attain that next level of independence and power and that is to self finance our own ventures. As we support our own, that will happen. Joi had her day but now let us continue investing in our community to create opportunity for millions more. HopewellThought will continue our campaign each month to help get you started.
**No One Can Oppress You Unless You Give Them The Money To Do So**