Let's play a game of “What if.”
Let's pretend that incredibly talented artist and burgeoning actress Janelle Monae was White — with strawberry blonde hair and the world at her feet.
Well, for one — she would have been nominated for an Oscar for her role in Hidden Figures. It’s painfully obvious that Octavia Spencer got the nod because the Academy felt pressure to nominate one of the gals, and since Spencer is the certified one of the bunch, they lazily went with her.
There was no consideration for the fact that they needed to apply the same acute precision that is given to films with a mostly White cast. There was no adherence to the rule of hand-picking the young actress who shows the level of promise that guarantees a future filled with leading roles and leading men succumbing to the brilliance of their leading lady.
None of the voters gave a damn about Janelle Monae’s potent potential, and this is because Black actresses never enjoy the kind of trajectory that their White counterparts are automatically bequeathed.
Hidden Figures was a decent offering, but definitely not a Best Picture contender. However, it makes sense that it was added to the list — because shit would’ve hit the fan if a movie about three African-Americans working at NASA had somehow been omitted from such an illustrious experience.
That being said, Monae by far had the most enticing character in the film. She grappled with the relatable issue of juggling familial duties with personal ambition. And when you consider the era and all the implications that run true, it’s hard not to celebrate the relevancy of Monae’s portrayal of Mary Jackson.
Monae played the role with pizzazz and with the backing of an instinct that has evidently served her well in any portal she chooses to inhabit.
In Hollywood, an industry that scopes out the prototypes of Julia Roberts, Cate Blanchett, Nicole Kidman, Cate Blanchett, and then props them with Emma Stone, Brie Larson, Jessica Chastain, Jennifer Lawrence and the rest of the crew — it’s easy to see how Black young actresses get left on the carving table.
If Janelle Monae were White, she would currently be one of Tinseltown's most sought after ingénues.
This means that she would have to get another a phone that specifically handles the requests from studios and producers who are desperate to begin the milking process.
It means that her deserved Oscar nomination would have landed her fruitful deals and magazine covers and the validation that being a triple threat pays off — especially when you are White, young and available.
If Black talent was truly regarded with hefty reverence, then there is no way in hell that Monae would escapes the glare of the spotlight in favor of less distinguished women in her league who are White enough to star in films that will surely catapult them into the stratosphere of imminent stardom.
Monae is already a star — so, no, she doesn’t need to be fed leftovers or compensated on behalf of those who shuffle to the steps of a tried and false narrative.
There is no doubt that Janelle Monae is already secure in the pod of what she is still going to wow us with — and as a woman of color, there is already the understanding of how much it will take to rise above her White competitors.
Still, there is no way we can escape the truth and deny that if she was White, with the hair color that matches the burnt out sun, she would be the ingénue signing on to projects that will make King Kong roar with pride.
Our eyes are wide open — as we survey what she demolishes next.
This post originally appeared on Medium and is reprinted here with permission.
Ezinne Ukoha is a multimedia journalist and poet based in New York and Los Angeles. She is a juggling wordsmith who loves to incorporate her obsession with pop culture and travel into as many facets as her words will allow. She is currently supplying content for various outlets including her blog, MyTrendyBuzz. She hopes to publish a book of poetry in the near future. Follow her on Twitter and ezinneukoha.com.
Top photo: Janelle Monae in Hidden Figures
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