ByElise Jost, writer at
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Elise Jost

In Hollywood, the boundaries between the arts are more than blurry, and there's more than one singer who's tried out acting and the other way around. Yet it's more rare to find artists who truly excel in both domains, with a lot of them just attempting one gimmick after the next.

Janelle Monáe is one of those rare gems who seems actually credible as much as a singer and performer as they do on the big screen. With her first steps in cinema this year, she proved that in addition to a charming voice, she definitely owned some solid acting skills. On top of that, her roles are in two of the most talked about films of the season: the Oscar-favorite Moonlight and the box-office winning Hidden Figures. How do you do it, Janelle?

From A Rich Musical Career...

After studying at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York, Monáe moved to Atlanta, where her musical performances allowed her to be discovered by Big Boi, from the group OutKast. Her first EP, The Audition, came out in 2003, before the release of another EP in 2007 and her full album, titled The ArchAndroid, in 2010. Then came The Electric Lady in 2013, as well as a number of collaborations with different artists of different genres.

Just compare her acoustic rendition of Fun.'s hit "We Are Young" to her hip-hop infused "Yoga," featuring Jidenna:

But since she studied acting, she probably always knew she wasn't going to stick only to music. As she tells Entertainment Tonight:

"I've always known both worlds and navigated both worlds. I've always considered myself to be a storyteller and I find it exciting to be able to be a storyteller in both worlds."

It was only a matter of time, then, before she appeared in a feature film... or two.

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To A Promising Hollywood Debut

Though she already had two voice acting credits to her name, Monáe was yet to appear on the big screen. At 31, she's probably already got more intuition than most budding actresses, but it's still incredible how she managed to start out with two of the currently most popular movies, Moonlight and Hidden Figures.

Of Moonlight, she says she was both in awe of the script and endlessly thankful for the opportunity to play Teresa, Mahershala Ali's character's girlfriend and a maternal figure to the main character, Chiron.

"The script was just exceptionally written."

Janelle Monáe in 'Moonlight' [Credit: A24]
Janelle Monáe in 'Moonlight' [Credit: A24]

And Hidden Figures spoke to her because of the historical nature of the material. She admits she didn't know herself that a group of black women had played such a crucial role in the space race that pitted the US against Russia in the '60s, but she instantly got attached to her character, Mary Jackson. Jackson became NASA's first black female engineer in 1958.

"What I want people to know most about is this woman, Mary Jackson. This story, Hidden Figures, waited over 50 years to be told, and I just want to make her proud and all the other women that worked so hard and persevered over so many obstacles to put an American in space and do something that had never been done before."

Oh, and she also performs alongside Pharrell Williams on the Hidden Figures soundtrack.

Her Incredible Success Doesn't Prevent Her From Keeping A Cool Head

She's already been nominated for plenty of Breakthrough Performance awards, both for Moonlight and Hidden Figures. Where many would boast — and have good reason to — she oozes confidence and humility.

"I'm just so happy to be a part of something that's bigger than myself and pushes culture forward and continues to be celebrated. [...] I won't stop if I'm not nominated and I won't get a big head if I am. I'm enjoying the climb and the journey. I'm in no rush to be No. 1."

She's also sponsored the Search for Hidden Figures, a contest in partnership with PepsiCo, 20th Century Fox, Pharrell Williams and the New York Academy of Sciences that has awarded two prizes of $50,000 to women in science, technology, engineering and math.

To say she's an inspiration would be an understatement.

"This story is for all of humanity, no matter what your color is, no matter your gender. You can go to this movie and find some hope. These women had to go through so many obstacles but through it all, they managed to achieve something that we all thought was impossible."

Are you just discovering Janelle Monáe, or have you been a fan from day one?

Janelle Monáe in 'Hidden Figures' [Credit: 20th Century Fox]
Janelle Monáe in 'Hidden Figures' [Credit: 20th Century Fox]

(Sources: Entertainment Tonight, CNN)


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