For the 2020 Power of Women issue, Variety spoke with several women in the entertainment industry who are using their voices to benefit worthy causes. For more, click here.
Janelle Monáe, the musician and actor, has always been political, and during this dreadful year she has been further ignited. Her impassioned activism was front and center even during her opening performance at the Academy Awards: “Tonight, we celebrate all the amazing talent in this room!” Monáe said exultantly to the Oscars audience in February as she sang her song “Come Alive.” “We celebrate all the women who directed phenomenal films. And I’m so proud to stand here as a black queer artist telling stories. Happy Black History Month!”
During the coronavirus pandemic, Monáe is supporting the Local Initiative Support Corp., a nonprofit organization that serves as an intermediary between donors and those businesses and individuals that need loans and grants to thrive — and these days, to survive.
About LISC, Monáe says: “Because of their urgent response to COVID-19, with the LISC Small Business Recovery Fund, they are anticipated to provide close to 1,000 cash grants of up to $10,000 — 96% of those grants are going to women-, LGBTQ-, minority- and veteran-owned small businesses.”
Later this summer, Monáe will appear in her first leading role in a film, the shrouded-in-mystery thriller “Antebellum.” She currently stars in the second season of Amazon’s “Homecoming.” The twisty drama, with its thematic condemnation of corporate malfeasance, is “even more relevant” now, Monáe says — it’s about privileging “greed and capitalism over the well-being of humanity and humans.” That her character is also in a relationship with Hong Chau’s Audrey, who’s back for Season 2, made Monáe especially want the role. “To have a Black woman and an Asian woman in a relationship on TV is the type of representation that we need,” says Monáe, who says “being a member of the LGBTQIA+ community is an honor.”
When asked how she’s faring in quarantine, Monáe says: “I don’t really know what day it is most days and nights. I’m questioning time — does it even exist?” If that’s a lost feeling many of us have at the moment, Monáe is also offering concrete service. She and her company, Wondaland Arts Society, have teamed up with the coronavirus-inspired charity Project Isaiah to help feed those in need, with airline caterer Gate Gourmet making and distributing the meals. “Yes, we are in this together,” Monáe says. “But we’re not all going through the same experience financially. My situation is a lot different than a single black mom with five kids who just got laid off.”
Monáe was already determined to help oust Donald Trump, but his response to COVID-19 has solidified that resolve. “This administration, along with the president,” she says, “they’re evil.”
Especially after the death of George Floyd, which has caused uprisings around the country over police brutality and racism, Monáe wants people — especially white people — to wake up.
“Because we need you,” Monáe says. “We need more people inside these places, inside these police precincts and these buildings, to stand up. And to be marching. And to be right there with us.”