Janelle Monáe, the boundary-bending singer, songwriter and actor remains unstoppable, even during a standstill. For the September cover of SHAPE, she talks to Farai Chideya, a writer and broadcaster on pop and politics, moving forward, starring in the timely film Antebellum¸ and why she’s taking on a new role as a social activist.
On her goal to help her community through activism: “Being Black, especially during this time, for me, is heavy. It’s traumatic, and all I want to do is figure out how I can be of help to my community. So I’ve been spending a lot of time organizing behind the scenes with peers, with my Wondaland Arts Society [Monae’s company] family. We hosted a Zoom where everybody had an opportunity to get on and just vent and cry and talk about how we’re feeling. These were white folks, Asian folks, Black folks, straight, gay—like a full spectrum of people and perspectives.”
On her new film Antebellum that shines a light on racial injustice: “I’ve made it a thing to face discomfort. I think discomfort is part of everyone’s reality right now. White people are feeling discomfort in one way, Black people are feeling discomfort in one way, and I didn’t want to shy away from that. It’s time for us to get uncomfortable, because the real change requires an upsetting and a rerouting and a real commitment to look at ourselves. In this instance, I hope that more white people see this film and fix the systems that their ancestors created that continue to oppress.”
On finding empowerment by sorting through her mental health: “I realized that I was dealing with abandonment issues, and just last year, I started to really deal with it. My dad was in and out of my life growing up, and other instances where I felt abandoned were coming up to the surface. I started to write these things down, and I remember just crying like a baby. I will say that it is so freeing when you can identify your trauma. Knowing why you feel a certain way or why these feelings of being upset or angry or sad—why they’re happening, what the root of it is. It’s just so empowering.”
On knowing her power and path from an early age: “Early on, I realized that I had something to write. I had my own musical instead of trying to be in musical theater or on Broadway. There was an artist in me that was looking to be developed. And only I could develop that artist.”
The September issue is available for purchase on August 14.
[Photo Credit: Dana Scruggs/Shape Magazine]