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Janelle Monáe: “Erasure is happening right under our noses”

Written by Jacqui PalumboChristiane Amanpour, CNN

Contributors Henry Hullah, CNN

Interview with Christiane Amanpour, chief international presenter of CNN. See more here.

Four years after the release of studio album “Dirty Computer” – a pop opus about love and rebellion in a dystopian future – Janelle Monáe has followed up with a new sci-fi book set in the same world. On Thursday, the singer and actor spoke with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour about the disturbing parallels between the hit anthology and the current state of politics in the United States.

Through five short stories, the protagonists of Monáe’s “The Memory Librarian” rebel against a eugenics society in the not-too-distant future that uses surveillance to root out citizens who are “dirty computers” and wipe their minds. Monáe’s book and album, and an accompanying short film, all advocate using love as a rebellious act in the face of oppression while celebrating the beauty of diversity.

Janelle Monae at the Met Gala. Credit: Angela Weiss/AFP/Getty Images

“(‘The Memory Librarian’) is about this totalitarian society that literally takes people’s memories away from them and gives them new identities so they can manipulate and control them,” Monáe told Amanpour. “But these protagonists, who are mostly queer, female (and) non-binary people, they’re standing up for themselves.”

Co-authored by Sheree Renée Thomas, Alaya Dawn Johnson, Eve L. Ewing, Yohanca Delgado, and Danny Lore, the book quickly became a New York Times bestseller. His success adds another hyphen to Monáe’s long list: a singer and songwriter nominated for eight Grammy Awards, an actor in the Oscar-winning film “Moonlight” and a filmmaker nominated for one of Hollywood’s highest accolades. science fiction, a Hugo Award, for the 45-minute narrative music video she released alongside “Dirty Computer”. Next, Monáe will play Josephine Baker in an upcoming TV biopic, which tells the lesser-known story of how the iconic entertainer became a spy during World War II.

protective instinct

Living shamelessly is a recurring theme across “Dirty Computer”‘s various media, and Monáe told Amanpour instinctively wants to “protect those who try to live in love and peace and are authentic themselves.” In April, Monáe opened up about their gender identity in a Los Angeles Times interview, saying they were “beyond binary” and using both them/them and her/her pronouns.

“I grew up in Kansas City, born and raised in Kansas, and I grew up with working-class parents. So my mom’s last profession, she was a janitor, and my dad was a garbage collector, and my grandma served food for the county jail for 25 years. So in my heart and in my mind, I always want to protect marginalized working-class people,” Monáe said. “And being queer, being me- even non-binary, imagine if I didn’t have my rig. Imagine if I didn’t earn my own money to support myself and lived with a family that rejected me or a community that did. don’t accept me for who I was.”

Janelle Monáe: “Erasure is happening right under our noses”

Monáe on the “Dirty Computer” tour in 2018. Credit: mpi140/MediaPunch/IPX/AP

As Monáe wrote on Instagram in December, they’ve always used sci-fi and Afro-futurism as “vehicles” to translate ideas into music, art, and now literature. But the singer told Amanpour they believe memory and history are under threat in America today.
“I think there’s definitely an erasure agenda,” Monáe said, pointing to Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signing the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which bans LGBTQ+ topics. in elementary school grades, and Texas Governor Greg Abbott. signing legislation that limits how race and US history are taught in state schools.

“These are real experiences for our ancestors, real experiences for us,” Monáe said. “And erasure is happening right under our noses. And it’s being done through legislation.”

Monáe highlighted the themes of “The Memory Librarian” that make the book so timely in this perilous political climate. “Our memories define the quality of our lives,” they said. “I think when you strip someone’s memory, you strip their identity, you strip them as human beings.”

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