When musician and actor Janelle Monáe put out a request to work with more women a few years ago, the response she got jolted her. "I got back a list [of names] that was so tiny, it was just unbelievable," she told the room at her Fem the Future pre-Oscars brunch at Catch LA on Friday. "I was frustrated. I was upset. And I was like, 'How do I channel that anger? What's the solution?'"
For Janelle, the answer came in the form of that aforementioned grassroots effort, Fem the Future, which aims to put female creators in the driver's seat. And female creators, many of them Janelle's friends, turned out in full force for the celebratory event. Among the successful women on site were Black Panther costars Lupita Nyong'o and Danai Gurira — with whom Janelle struck some Wakanda-inspired poses with on the red carpet — actor and activists Geena Davis and Rosario Dawson, music producer Grimes, and directors Ava DuVernay and Dee Rees. Tessa Thompson, who costars in Janelle's steamy new music video for "Make Me Feel," also stopped by.
"Women are realizing that we're more magical — we're stronger — when we're together, when we're united, when we're aligned."
Janelle unveiled Fem the Future's new partnership with Belvedere Vodka, which spotlights up-and-coming female directors, in front of the roomful of friends and collaborators. The brunch served as part panel and part conversation, with Janelle prompting guests to chat at their tables about empowering tools and tricks they'd found and moments that helped propel them forward.
Danai also shared her own story with the room about how she came to own her passion for telling the stories of African women after a moment of feeling "lost at sea" in grad school. "I went through a moment where I felt lost, and I couldn't quite remember who I was or what I was doing," she recalled. "What I realized at the end of it was that I was being crafted to shed any degree of people-pleaser-ness . . . You have to be authentically true to you, and you have to let people know who you are."
We caught up with Janelle as she arrived for the event clad in one of her signature suits. While the multifaceted star has appeared in recent Oscar-favorite films that have pushed forward positive representation for women and the black and LGBTQ+ communities — Hidden Figures and Moonlight — she knows there's still much work to be done across industries to lift women up.
"I think what we're seeing right now is a shift happening," Janelle told POPSUGAR. "Women are realizing that we're more magical — we're stronger — when we're together, when we're united, when we're aligned . . . How can we all come together and take the anger that we have, or the frustrations that we have, and find a solution? I think the solution is really partnering, figuring out how we can support each other, uplift one another, and shine light on these unique stories that need to be told."
Janelle is also focused on the fact that men have to step up and play a role in making change. "I think everyone — men and women — are going to have to realize that women's rights are human rights. So, humanity is going to have to get together and protect women in the workplace — and also give women opportunities, to actively say, 'Hey, we can do better. We've given 90 percent of our funds to male storytellers. We can do better,'" she said.
After all, as Janelle pointed out, "Women; we're half the population, if not more! Babies are being born every day! So it's really about looking at what we can do now that will prevent the lack of opportunities given to women from happening in the future."