You can always count on Janelle Monáe to kick off an awards show in the best way possible: with an epic singing and dancing number. Janelle Monáe's Oscar opener on Feb. 9 segued from a Mister Rogers ballad into a mash-up with Billy Porter, and featured dancers dressed up as characters from films like Us, Midsommar, and Dolemite Is My Name. While a fun, high-energy number, the performance also carried a strong message: the Oscars are still way too white.
The Electric Lady opened the show by serenading the theater with "A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood," paying homage to the late Fred Rogers (and giving a literal hat tip to Tom Hanks, who played the iconic figure in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood). She then quickly segued into a high-octane performance with Pose star Billy Porter joining her on stage to sing Rocketman's "I'm Still Standing" in front of a squad of costumed dancers.
Porter and Monáe paid tribute to Black History Month by highlighting several recently released films that featured Black actors and/or were made by Black creatives. The background dancers dressed in jumpsuits from Us, outfits from Queen & Slim, and suits from Dolemite Is My Name — all films that were snubbed by the awards.
"I am so proud to stand here as a Black queer woman telling these stories," Monáe told the audience, likely referring to the fact that the Academy has consistently struggled to nominate films that reflect the diversity of the world at large. She also called out the Academy for not nominating any female filmmakers in the best director category.
"We celebrate all the women who directed phenomenal films," she said.
This echoes her sentiments on the red carpet, where she reiterated the importance of diversity. "I think the important takeaway is to listen to black women," Monáe told journalists. "When we are in positions of leadership, when we have your support, we can do the unthinkable. We can do the impossible.”
Though #OscarsSoWhite is now several years old, it's a movement that's proven to still be necessary even to this day. The last Academy president, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, instituted sweeping changes in 2016 that upped the percentage of people of color in the Academy to 16% in 2019, but it's clear that the organization is still falling behind when it comes to acknowledging a variety of creative voices. While it seemed like the Oscars were improving the past few years in this regard, the nominations round for the 92nd Academy Awards revealed that the only actor of color nominated was Cynthia Erivo for Harriet.
Though Janelle Monáe was chosen to get the audience hyped for the evening, that doesn't mean she shied away from also delivering a hard truth to the Academy: if they want the Oscars to remain relevant, they're going to need to inspect their own biases and acknowledge the fantastic works coming from creatives of color.