Multi-hyphenate Janelle Monáe is having the best year ever. Her chart-topping album and "emotion picture" Dirty Computer dropped earlier this year to critical acclaim, her production company Wondaland Pictures just signed a first-look deal with Universal, and she's starring in the film Welcome to Marwen, the based-on-a-true-story tale of a man who overcomes severe PTSD with the help of the women in his life.
Fresh off Dirty Computer being nominated for two GRAMMYs, Best Album and Best Music Video "Pynk," Shadow And Act sat down with the superstar to talk Welcome to Marwen.
"What I love most about the story and about life is that we do have an opportunity to dig deeper and to turn our traumas into triumph," she tells Shadow And Act of her role as G.I. Julie in Welcome to Marwen. In the film, Mark Hogancamp (Steve Carrell) has been badly beaten in a homophobic attack, and Julie is his physical trainer who helps him learn to walk again. "Embrace the pain," she tells him as he struggles to relearn the skills the attack and PTSD have taken from him.
As a coping mechanism, Hogancamp creates an incredible art-installation in his yard, a town of dollhouses he builds to resemble WWII-era Belgium. He paints dolls that fight off Nazis who resemble the women who have helped him in his life, including Julie. Monáe appears as a CGI doll who protects "Capt. Hogie" throughout most of the film.
"It's not easy; it really takes some dedication and active work, but that's what I love most about this story," Monáe says. "It gives us an example. This is based on a true story. Somebody went through this. To see Mark come out the other side with the help of some strong, incredible women, heroes in his eyes, makes me proud to be a part of it."
As for her Wondaland Pictures deal with Universal, Monáe is not limiting the kinds of films she will create.
"I'm so excited to be partnering with Universal and someone like Donna Langley [chairman of Universal Pictures], who has done so much for the film world," Monáe says. "I'm excited about bringing more stories, universal stories, told in unforgettable ways and highlighting more marginalized voices."
As for what she hopes her legacy will be with the music and films she creates, she says, "I hope that people who have felt like their ideas don't matter, their voices don't matter, that they haven't been represented in media the best way that they can be represented, I hope that my music and my art can speak to them, can heal them, can help them push forward their ideas and not be afraid to just be their unique selves."
Welcome to Marwen is in theaters December 21.