“I don’t know if a lot of people know this,” she says, “but I auditioned for Star Trek prior to Moonlight. The casting director saw my tape and told [Moonlight director] Barry Jenkins about me. I didn’t get the part in Star Trek, but that’s why Barry reached out to me. And the rest is history.”

“I love telling these sorts of stories that give voice to those who are oftentimes uncelebrated, to those who don’t feel like they have a voice in America,” says Monáe of the characters central to both films—Moonlight’s Chiron, whom Monáe’s Teresa supports as a mother figure, and Hidden Figures’ Katherine Johnson, played by Taraji P. Henson; Octavia Spencer’s Dorothy Vaughn; and the high-voltage Mary Jackson, Monáe’s first starring film role. “These are characters who are considered to be outcast in society because of their sexual identity, gender, or race,” she says. “I think that these two movies have opened up a new door to the possibilities of telling more unique stories.”

“I say this with so much humility, but I’m also saying this so loud, because I never thought that I would see the day where three African American female protagonists are in a film about math and space and we’d be number one in the box office. We beat out Star Wars!” she says, referring to the Felicity Jones–fronted Rogue One, the latest in that other storied sci-fi franchise. “The people have spoken, and we’re all waiting for stories that transcend race and gender and all that. The world is ever-changing, and Hollywood is just going to have to adapt.”

Her style—mostly black and white, often some tuxedo-like ensemble—has made Monáe a fixture on the red carpet. But the pomp and circumstance doesn’t always come easily. With cameras and interviewers in her face, “I just try to remain humble, remain myself,” she says. “Early on in my career I decided I was going to wear black and white, a kind of uniform, to honor and pay homage to my working-class parents,” who wore uniforms every day to work. “I’m so proud to be from Wyandotte County, one of the poorest counties in Kansas. I’m so happy that I serve as a reminder of that. You know, there is a quote that says you don’t have to be a part of your environment, but your environment can be a part of you,” she adds. “I’m in Hollywood but I’m not of it. I love just remaining an artist.”

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Photos Courtesy of LA Confidential

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