Janelle Monae on ‘Moonlight’ and ‘Hidden Figures’


— Janelle Monae is someone you’ll be seeing a lot of this year.

The Grammy-nominated singer has made the jump from music to movies in two buzzed about films this season — “Moonlight” and “Hidden Figures.” Monae told CNN her decision to take on the projects was motivated by their sentiment.

“Two compelling important stories around humanity, about empathy, around the love and the celebration of those who are often times uncelebrated. It’s the narrative I wanted to be associated with.”

Monae made her big screen debut in director Barry Jenkins’ coming-of-age tale “Moonlight,” in October. For Monae, performing in all forms is about storytelling.

“A lot of people may not know this, but I studied acting,” Monae said. “I’ve always been in the theater world and I’m a writer and screenwriter as well. I’ve never looked at myself as an actor, but more so a storyteller and I want to tell unique, meaningful, universal stories in unforgettable ways.”

Monae stars alongside Octavia Spencer and Taraji P. Henson in “Hidden Figures.” The film is based on the true story of three African American women who worked at NASA in 1969 and played key roles in the country’s space program.

“These [women] are our true American heroes,” she said. “It’s because of them that we can have that as America. We can feel proud that we achieved something so extraordinary.”

In an effort to inspire others, Monae has teamed up with Pepsi, 21st Century Fox, Pharrell Williams and the New York Academy of Sciences to promote a contest that will award $200,000 in scholarships to women pursuing science, technology, engineering and math related careers.

“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,” Monae said. “These women had to go through so many obstacles but through it all, they managed to achieve something that we all thought was impossible.”

“Hidden Figures” hits theaters December 25.