Janelle Monae attends the 76th Annual Golden Globe Awards at the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills, CA on Sunday, January 6, 2019.
  • Industry

Janelle Monáe: “We all must come together”

Janelle Monáe headlines Season Two of the Amazon series Homecoming, directed by Kyle Patrick Alvarez and featuring a different storyline from that of season one, which was directed by Sam Esmail and starred Julia Roberts, who continues to serve as executive producer.  Steven James and Hong Chau return, while Chris Cooper and Joan Cusack are added to the cast.  Monáe also stars in the horror movie Antebellum (Lionsgate), and plays feminist Dorothy Pitman Hughes in The Glorias, directed by Julie Taymor, with Julianne Moore and Alicia Vikander portraying Gloria Steinem at different ages, and Bette Midler as Bella Abzug.

Janelle Monáe Robinson, a popular singer-songwriter with eight Grammy nominations (she sang the intro musical number at the 2020 Oscars), received critical acclaim as an actress for her first starring role in the movie Hidden Figures (2016) with Octavia Spencer, in which she played NASA mathematician and aerospace engineer Mary Jackson.  She also acted in Moonlight (2016), directed by Brian Jenkins, and in Harriet (2019), directed by Kasi Lemmons, with Cynthia Erivo as Harriet Tubman.

An outspoken political activist, in 2015 Monáe wrote the protest song “Hell You Talmbout” against the police brutality that takes so many black lives. In 2016 she created the organization “Fem The Future” to empower women in entertainment.  About the killing of George Floyd, she posted on Twitter, “When will the majority of protests and outrage be led by white people and police officers everywhere?”

In Homecoming, Monáe plays a veteran who wakes up on a boat without any memory of who she is. As the mystery unfolds, it seems that she is the victim of an experiment conducted by the Geist Corporation. Speaking virtually with HFPA journalists, she says, “This is an example of what happens when capitalism is at the forefront of the health and well-being of our citizens. We all must come together to fight the giant abusive power led by corporate America.”

In Antebellum, she plays a writer who finds herself trapped in an alternate reality, in which she goes back in time to relive the experience of a slave. “It was difficult and traumatic.  There’s no way that I could imagine what my ancestors went through, but I did it for the strong black women who came before me, who had to endure that pain and still persevered through it. So it was therapeutic and cathartic.”

In The Glorias, she plays Harlem businesswoman Dorothy Pittman Hughes, a co-founder of Ms. magazine, who helped Gloria Steinem with her fear of public speaking, and “would always go out into the community to create programs for kids to be able to eat and to learn.”

Monáe, who defines herself “a queer black woman in America who has been in relationships with both men and women,” is considered an icon in the LGBTQ community. She understands the connection between various forms of oppression: “I want to make sure that, if anyone is thinking about continuing to oppress those whose voices have been silenced because of their race or their class, their sexual orientation or their gender, we are not going to back down without a fight.”

She has not released any new songs since her latest album Dirty Computer (2018), and says she is not ready to write anything yet, because her music was “rooted in the reality” prior to the pandemic. As for now, “I am putting my energy in trying to help as a citizen. We first must acknowledge that we are not all in the same boat, that there is a difference between a billionaire and a single mother of five who was laid off from her job and doesn’t have health benefits.”  She has partnered with Project Isaiah to distribute free meals in Atlanta, Georgia, where she lives.