The arrival today of Janelle Monáe’s first album in five years, titled “Dirty Computer,” has been building with hype as the multihyphenate has released a handful of music videos off the album over the past several weeks. The videos led up to the “emotion picture” musical film Monáe released today along with the album, which features actress Tessa Thompson.
In New York for the day to promote her film “Little Woods” at the Tribeca Film Festival, Thompson explained the appeal in joining such a project.
“It’s set in a dystopian future in which the government is plucking folks that are ‘dirty computers,’ essentially, that are different. And many of them are black and brown and queer people, and they’re trying to sort of wash them of the things that make them who they are and their memories. So as a narrative structure the videos are the memories that are being wiped,” Thompson says. “So we made a little movie. I’m a huge fan of science fiction and speculative fiction. I think inside that space you can sort of talk about where we’re going as humans and it’s more palpable, and people have an easier time digesting ideas inside of a space that feels like it’s a skosh from reality.”
She and Monáe share a love of science fiction that was inspirational in the construction of the project.
“Janelle really loves science fiction and all her collaborators at Wondaland really like it and we’re all so close and we talk about these ideas all the time that to get to make a piece about it was so fun,” she says. “This record I think for Janelle really marks a time of allowing her work to be more personal, of giving her fans and listeners a window into her ideas as opposed to an archetype or a character that she’s playing. It’s really exciting when folks are making really personal work and I’m just glad I got to be a part of it.”
While Monáe is used to working between music and film, it was a “whole different world” for Thompson. “Obviously Janelle straddles both lines because she acts and she is also a musician, but I’m used to working inside an environment where every minute is structured and you work with musicians and there is just a little more sort of looseness around schedule and time and everything is just a little more relaxed, and there is a kind of freedom I think,” she says. “It’s probably why a lot of actors idealize the idea of being rock stars, or we like to play them. I think particularly in this piece, ‘Dirty Computer,” which is actually wanting to make people feel more free, to dare them to be really themselves, it was fitting that we should shoot it in a way that just felt like free and loose and we’re going to take a risk and make striking images.”
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