Janelle Monae on ‘Homecoming’ season two, PTSD in Black communities

'I think that PTSD is very real, and I think that every time we see a video like that, it breaks us down,' Monae says.

Janelle Monae Homecoming www.theGrio.com
Courtesy of Amazon Studios

Waking up in a row boat, floating in the middle of an unknown body of water with no recollection of self would leave anyone with a few questions.

This is the exact manner in which Janelle Monae’s character, Jackie, is introduced in Homecoming season 2. The Golden-Globe nominated Amazon series returns, adding new characters and stories to an already mysterious plot.

READ MORE: Janelle Monáe doesn’t know who she is in ‘Homecoming’ trailer

The singer/actress assumes a new role in the mysterious thriller. Starring as Jackie, Monae must work to uncover her own identity to understand the part she played in Geist’s grand scheme. For the actress, working on the television show brought a different experience from her prior film roles. During an interview with theGrio, she shares how working on Homecoming varies from a movie set.

“I have to tip my hat off to the directors and the producers and everyone involved, but it was, it was like a 9 to 5, which I appreciate,” she says about the television set. “Sometimes I would have to do night scenes or early morning scenes, but for the most part, my schedule was pretty consistent, and we filmed a lot of it on the universal lot, which was great. So I had a sense of like structure and not like in films, you don’t have that structure, but they made it a point to make sure that the actors had the preparation that they needed.”

Janelle Monae

PASADENA, CALIFORNIA – FEBRUARY 22: Janelle Monáe attends the 51st NAACP Image Awards, Presented by BET, at Pasadena Civic Auditorium on February 22, 2020 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)

She went on to open about working as a leading actress on TV for the first time in her career.

“I will say in terms of leading, this is my first time leading a TV show,” she explains to theGrio. “I haven’t done TV, but it did feel like we were shooting a movie, and it was going to be chopped up, you know, via episodes because we pretty much shot in chronological order, for the most part.” 

On Homecoming season one, military veterans are tricked into signing up for a government-contracted program, unknowingly eradicating their violent memories, which may lead to post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD.

While these flashbacks are fictional, recent news events with different names and locations, reveal the reality of PTSD, especially in Black communities. The Electric Lady singer understands how the disorder is a real-life experience for many who have never suited up in uniform, but are faced with watching deadly brutality on social media, news platforms, and other mass mediums.

For the actress, Homecoming sheds light on how as a society, the decisions made following triggering events should be examined. 

“I think that PTSD is very real, and I think that every time we see a video like that, it breaks us down,” Monae says about the videos that circulate after a violent event. “You know, it breaks us down in a way that it will desensitize us because we’re not shocked anymore. We’ve seen it all, and also people who deal and suffer from PTSD, it is triggering for them if they’ve ever been assaulted, if they’ve ever been shot, if they’ve ever witnessed in person, a murder.”

She continues, “Every day, it’s affecting their mental health, and my heart goes out to them and that’s what this series does [it] address how we treat those who are dealing with PTSD, how we deal with, our veterans, are they taken care of? Do they have the best health plan when it comes to counseling and, medicine, that may help them get through, their specific diagnosis.”

Stephan James Homecoming www.theGrio.com

Courtesy of Amazon Studios

Monae specifically names Ahmaud Arbery, who was fatally shot by two white men while jogging near his home in Georgia. The “Make Me Feel” singer says that the event left her heartbroken. 

“I think that what went on with Ahmaud is horrific, and my heart continues to race every time … I didn’t want to see that video. I scrolled across it. I wasn’t trying to click on it, and just like many, it lures you in, and, it becomes your thing,” she explains. “I think it’s all of our things, not just Black people. It’s humanity right now we’re going to have to make some decisions on how we are going to show up for one another in this pandemic. Those of us who are more privileged financially how we’re going to show up for those who are less privileged financially.”

She adds, “Those who have more influence, and have power how we’re going to show up and demand justice for innocent victims and hold people accountable, and hold people who abuse their powers accountable, like that’s going to be important.”

In the Amazon series, Jackie frantically searches for the truth hoping to uncover the depth of her own, possibly harmful involvement in the elusive wellness initiative, while also maneuvering through eerie attitudes from those surrounding her. 

To prepare for her silver screen debut, Monae watched a variety of media for nuanced notes on portraying a dazed and determined woman on a mission. The star shares with theGrio how she watched things such as 2002’s The Bourne Identity, 2000’s Momento and 2014’s Before I Go To Sleep to observe how people respond to memory loss, but leaving room for her own personal flair.

Overall, her character, Jackie, is different from the roles she’s taken on before. For once her race was not important in landing a performance role.

“One thing that was different with this character versus all of my other characters, race was an important factor. I couldn’t have done Hidden Figures (2016) without being a Black woman. I could not have done my role in Harriet (2019) without being a black woman,” remarks the multihyphenate talent to theGrio. “These were written for Black woman, those, those roles. This particular role, especially with Julia Roberts leading that first season was pretty much wide open.”

Janelle Monae thegrio.com

Janelle Monae attends the 2018 Vanity Fair Oscar Party rocking sleek short waves and soft neutral makeup. (Photo by Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images)

She continues, “In terms of race, obviously I am a Black woman so coming to the role, that’s my experience my lived experience. I   leaned into it, but it wasn’t dependent on it and I felt like, for the first time, I could make the choice of how I wanted to play her.” 

Monae may differ from Jackie in several ways, however, the star notes their similar disposition for uncovering truths despite some deviations in choice behavior. 

“I think we’re both asking questions about what the f**k is wrong,” says Monae to theGrio. “I’m in the middle of this pandemic, I don’t know about you, but I’m trying to understand when the vaccine is here, how we got here, why we have an administration who’s careless, who’s putting capitalism before the health and well being of people.”

The singer also says she’s working to understand the concept of time during quarantine, which has left her “searching.”

READ MORE: Janelle Monáe to live-stream performance in support of small businesses

“The concept of time is just non-existent for me. I think that, you know, we’re both searching and Jackie searching, she’s trying to find out how she got in this boat,” Monae explains. “Who is she, you know, she knows that she’s an ex veteran, why was she a veteran? What is Geist? Who are all these characters and who’s telling the truth?  She’s trying to uncover her truth. I’m trying to uncover the truth too in reality.” 

She continues, “I think in terms of our differences, there are some some choices that Jackie makes it I wouldn’t necessarily make. It doesn’t make me a better person, or her a bad person, but there are just some choices that we were making. You have to watch the TV show, we can talk about it afterward. Everybody has to watch that to understand what I’m talking about.”

Homecoming, season two is set to premiere in over 200 countries and territories on Friday, May 22 on Amazon Prime Video.