The conversation around inclusivity in Hollywood has been impossible to ignore. This past year alone, women speaking up unseated a laundry list of men who abused their power, and these women exposed glaring disparities in pay equality–all of which came to a head recently during this year’s Academy Awards. The night was charged with the spirit of the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements, most notably during Frances McDormand’s Best Actress acceptance speech that had everyone Googling “inclusion rider.”
In the fight to create more opportunities for women, people of color, the LGBTQ community, and the intersections within, Janelle Monáe is lending her voice through A Beautiful Future, a two-year project with Belvedere Vodka in which three female filmmakers will create short films that convey their idea of a beautiful future.
“When I sat down with Belvedere and we talked about the initiatives I wanted to get off the ground and what they were working on, it was clear that we had a shared vision about uplifting women, about giving opportunities to women,” Monáe says.
Filmmakers Janicza Bravo, Lacey Duke, and Kirsten Lepore have been given the financial backing and creative control to tell their stories how they want to tell them. Their films will be posted to Belvedere’s YouTube channel in April, May, and June, kicking off a larger programming push that will include more digital content as well as events for the next two years. The initiative is in-step with Monáe’s philanthropic arm, Fem the Future, which pushes for opportunities for women across the arts, as well as Belvedere’s mission of building and giving back to communities.
“Janelle really reflects that in the way she works and in the way she thinks,” says Rodney Williams, president and CEO of Belvedere Vodka. “We look for people who have really high standards and I think that’s true of Janelle and her [record label] Wondaland team. But the core thing is that they’re really committed to a sense of inclusiveness and giving voice to stories that aren’t often told, and that is really consistent with what we’ve been trying to achieve in terms of creating a more robust and positive community in all of our actions globally.”
For Monáe, having the support of a brand like Belvedere has been invaluable to helping to spread her message.
“Three years ago, when I started Fem the Future, I felt really stressed out and frustrated because I didn’t have the money to help with some of the initiatives,” she says. “I felt like it was all on my back. I felt like these opportunities were being wasted because I didn’t really have the money to realize them. I don’t want to pretend like money does not bring wings to your ideas. So I hope that the ideas that Fem the Future has will soar and they will give women opportunities to be seen and heard.”
So what exactly does a beautiful future look like for Monáe?
“It bothers me that so many voices of women have gone unnoticed. The light has not been shone on their talent. We’re frustrated. We’re angry because we don’t see women given these opportunities. This is a predominantly male-driven and -dominated industry and we have to do something about it,” Monáe says. “What we want to do with Fem the Future is to create opportunities via mentorships and opportunities like A Beautiful Future, giving three women directors an opportunity to do a short film about what a beautiful future looks like for them. And because they’re all different, we’re going to get different perspectives. I hope that their stories will bridge gaps, start conversations, and urge us as humanity to listen to one another more. And I think that happens when we are ourselves and we are creating art that is coming from a very unique perspective.”