It wasn’t an easy decision for Janelle Monáe to take the lead role in “Antebellum.” Despite its compelling script, reenacting America’s history of slavery was challenging for the actor, who, like many, struggles with viewing contemporary instances of police brutality.
“I still have not watched what happened to George Floyd. It’s painful to have to tell the truth of what the police is doing to us or tell the truth about what happened to our ancestors,” she said in an interview with Variety‘s Angelique Jackson.
On “Antebellum’s” relationship to today’s Black Lives Matter movement, Monáe highlighted the importance of revisiting a story from Black America’s past in order to understand the present and reconstruct the future.
“Everything that we’re going through right now — especially as it pertains to screaming at the top of our lungs till our voices are gone, till we have nothing in us, that Black lives matter, to talking about systemic racism to talking about white supremacy — we can’t talk about that without talking about chattel slavery and how we got here in the first place,” she said.
“I think this film highlights what it’s like for Black women to carry the burden of deconstructing and dismantling systemic and white supremacy on our backs — what it’s like every single day for Black women to do that, who are out in the front lines,” she continued. “I thought it was important to globally center Black women’s voices and to show not only our pain but the joy and the celebration of what it is like to be in the midst of that presence.”
The multi-hyphenate entertainer also shared the inspiration behind her new song “Turntables,” which is featured in former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacy Abrams’ documentary, “All In: The Fight for Democracy.” Monáe said Abrams’ energy inspired her to write and perform a song during the pandemic.
“This song is meant to capture the revolution. The revolution spins around when you talk about records. Revolution is permitted. This is me documenting that,” she said. “When I wrote it, I said, ‘Listen, I’m gonna write this, but if they ask me to change anything, I’m just gonna keep it.’ Because I’m not a politician, and I’m an artist and in a very raw space in terms of my feelings.”
Fortunately, Monáe added, “As soon as I turned the song in … they were like, ‘Don’t change anything, we want it just as it is.’”
For the full conversation, including Monáe opening up about taking on the role of activist Dorothy Pitman Hughes in “The Glorias,” watch the video above.