Janelle Monaé’s sudden dive into film may feel like a surprise to many, but the artist and singer has been working towards this moment for some time. And if her role as Mary Jackson in Hidden Figures, or her compassionate mother figure in Barry Jenkins Moonlight is any indication, she’s ready.
Monaé studied acting at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy, so it’s no wonder she excels on-screen in Hidden Figures, a historic film that focuses on three African-American female NASA employees who flourish despite the racial climate of the times. It’s a dream role for Monaé, who often references space and the beyond in her music.
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“I was obsessed with space. I was a fan of Mae Jemison and wanted to be an astronaut,” she told ESSENCE in the February issue. “I was once really, really amazing at math. Now, I wasn’t a genius, but I had talent. Kids who love STEM are out there, we just need to be encouraged.”
Monaé’s performance comes at a pivotal moment, when history seems to be repeating itself and Black contributions to the world, like President Obama’s legacy, are threatened to be delegitimized by hate. Hidden Figures also comes at a time when we’re witnessing a resurgence in Black film and television, moving the focus away from Black bodies and stereotypical roles.
“These women are super f–king heroes — without a cape, without a catsuit! That’s why this movie is so important.”
Hidden Figures is in theaters now.