Emmy-Nominated Editor JoAnne Yarrow on the Importance of Latinas Working Behind the Camera
“The biggest misconception is that it isn’t creative,” film and television editor JoAnne Yarrow says about her craft. She’s nominated for an Emmy for editing “Fan Fiction,” the eighth episode of the first season of “Only Murders in the Building.” And if she wins, she will be one of the rare Latinas in the entertainment industry to get that type of mainstream recognition. She approaches her craft intuitively, telling POPSUGAR it’s about capturing the emotion for her. “I go based on my gut . . . it’s truly a feeling for me. I really edit from the heart,” she says. “I want to infuse whatever I’m working on with emotion. I want people to care. I want them to be invested. And so, I feel like my approach is to come at it in the same way.”
But how does stitching together different takes make that happen? Yarrow explains how movie magic happens in the editing bay. “Maybe I really liked this performance that on camera looks beautiful and I feel like it has the right emotion, but the line isn’t as good,” Yarrow says. “I can steal another line from another tape and put it in somebody’s mouth. . . . [Or I might be] changing the timing of comedic beats to have a quicker response and have them really hit the mark.”
“It can be something as simple as a music supervisor choosing a nonstereotypical song for a convenience store, or a cab ride, or a party – whatever it is. [It’s knowing] in a certain neighbourhood, what does that sound like?”
That’s a lot of manipulation. While it’s easy to get caught up in the technical aspect of Yarrow’s work, it’s worth remembering that her choices can also be political. She worked with Tanya Saracho on the TV show “Vida” and praised how the music selection made that world feel so vibrant, specific, and surprising. “It can be something as simple as a music supervisor choosing a nonstereotypical song for a convenience store, or a cab ride, or a party – whatever it is. [It’s knowing] in a certain neighbourhood, what does that sound like?”
That’s why it’s so important to have members of the community behind the scenes when telling our stories – even if it’s not exactly their own. Yarrow is quick to admit, “My Spanish is not good,” but she still knows enough to recognise Google Translate when she hears it. In that case, she takes it upon herself to check if the Spanish is correct and fix it if it’s not. It’s a small touch, but it’s one that can make a big difference. The same issues of representation can play out when it comes to whose stories end up on screen and whose fall to the cutting-room floor. Yarrow applauds the trend to have diverse casts, but she has some words of caution, remembering one project she worked on with “all white creators” where “the cast was really mixed.”
“There were African American members of the main ensemble, [and] there was a side story with this Latinx family,” she says. “And what I noticed was the creators were kind of OK with having only one represented – as long as there was a Black person on screen, they were OK to lose this other storyline. . . . And I just said, ‘You know, it’s really easy to say, ‘Hey, we’ve checked off that box by including people that are non-white. But let’s think beyond that because I don’t want these other groups to be excluded. . . . They both deserve to exist in that space.” And they absolutely listened to me, and they didn’t cut that storyline.”
Hollywood isn’t just notoriously white, though – it’s also notoriously dominated by men. Yarrow notes that while “editing started with women, it has been a really male-driven career path.” And for her, that means less nuanced, less dynamic storytelling. She “cares more about the woman’s perspective” and remembers putting together a scene “where the mistress and the wife confront each other.” She recounts, “There was a male editor that said, ‘Oh, you don’t have that much on the husband.’ And in this particular scene, I was like, ‘It’s about them actually understanding each other and where they’re both coming from.'” Sometimes, it can take a woman to decenter the male perspective, even where it’s not the most important.
“I definitely didn’t have a person to look up to who looked like me, [where I could say], ‘He or she did it, [so] I can do it, too.”
Talking to her today, Yarrow seems very sure of herself and her identity. But like Latinxs everywhere, she has her own ni de aqui, ni de allá story. She was born in Colombia but adopted by a white family in the Midwest. She’s since reconnected with her family of origin and believes seeing and understanding both worlds has given her great perspective in terms of how people are shown and represented. Not that it was easy. Coming up in editing, Yarrow attests, “I definitely didn’t have a person to look up to who looked like me, [where I could say], ‘He or she did it, [so] I can do it, too.” That’s why the Emmy nomination means so much to her. It’s a chance to be seen for her work and who she is, maybe even inspiring the next generation of Latina editors along the way.
Of course, she’s thrilled it came with “Only Murders in the Building,” which she heralds for its ability to feature all sorts of people and normalise them, regardless of their race, age, ethnicity, or ability. In “Fan Fiction,” she got to spend a lot of time with a character in a wheelchair and never make a big deal about it – it just was. To her, the show “doesn’t broadcast that it’s an inclusive environment; it [just] is naturally.” Because of that, it’s moving the needle on representation by showing “people looking all sorts of ways, just being part of a fun, goofy show.”
“My hope is that the momentum doesn’t slow down, that we don’t just sit there and check a box and go on autopilot, that this isn’t a phase, that we see more and more of it.”
When she looks forward to the issue of representation, she’s excited by shows like “Only Murders in the Building” and other projects that are more self-conscious in terms of identity. “I just saw the ‘Black Panther’ trailer, and I saw some of the characters [were] Mexican, Indigenous . . . and it made me teary, honestly, to see something with scope and money behind it have people who look like me. . . . My hope is that the momentum doesn’t slow down, that we don’t just sit there and check a box and go on autopilot, that this isn’t a phase, that we see more and more of it.”
Yarrow’s doing her part to make that happen, blazing a trail in Hollywood and telling stories that matter. She’s currently working on Netflix’s forthcoming “Shirley,” which tells the story of Shirley Chisholm, the first Black congresswoman and the first Black woman to run for president of the US. Regina King plays the titular role, and the film is directed by John Ridley, ensuring it will hit the mark in terms of representation in front of and behind the camera.
Here’s looking forward to many more productions edited by Yarrow and the enhanced representation that comes with having people like her advocating for our communities behind the scenes.