Janelle Monae's Oscars Performance Channels Mr. Rogers, Calls Out Lack of Diversity in Opening Number

The singer and actress Janelle Monae began the 2020 Oscars by addressing the two biggest controversies around the ceremony in an energetic performance in which she called out the lack of diversity in the nominations while surrounded by dancers dressed as some of the standout black characters from the year's films.

Her six minute performance, which opened the ceremony, saw Monae pay tribute to the movie A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood as she performed her own version of the Mr. Rogers song "Won't You Be My Neighbor" as that movie's star Tom Hanks sat in the front row.

This song led into a new version of her 2010 song "Come Alive (War of the Roses)," updated with lyrics about the 2020 Academy Awards. As she performed this song, she was joined on stage by dancers dressed as characters from nominated films like Joker and 1917, as well as performers dressed as characters from notable 2019 films directed by women and featuring black actors that were snubbed by the Academy.


Among the characters represented were Slim (played by Daniel Kaluuya) and Queen (Jodie Turner-Smith) from Melina Matsoukas' Queen & Slim, Rudy Ray Moore (Eddie Murphy) from Dolemite is My Name and a group of Tethers from Us.

The new lyrics to "Come Alive" also reflected the controversy around this year's Oscars, that saw only one actor of color nominated in all four acting categories. "It's time to come alive, 'cos the Oscars, it's so white," she sang.

Later, the singer and actress, who starred in 2017 Best Picture winner Moonlight, came off stage in an outfit inspired by the horror film Midsommar. She told the crowd: "Tonight we celebrate all the amazing talent in this room. We celebrate all the women who directed phenomenal films, and I'm so proud to stand here as a black, queer artist, telling stories."

janelle monae oscars
Janelle Monae began her Oscars 2020 opening performance with her tribute to Mr. Rogers and the Tom Hanks film "A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood" ABC

Monae was also joined onstage by her fellow black, queer icon Billy Porter, who performed part of the Elton John song "I'm Still Standing" in tribute to the movie Rocketman. The Pose actor tweeted after his performance, "You know I'm still standing better than I ever did.⁠ Looking like a true survivor, feeling like a little kid..." Still gagged that I got to open the 92nd Annual #Oscars alongside the brilliant @JanelleMonae with one of my favorite @eltonofficial songs!"

Monae, who also appeared in the 2017 Best Picture nominee Hidden Figures, seemed to predict that night's Best Picture winner. As part of her song, she sang, "the Parasites, it's time to shine," a few hours before Parasite became the first ever Best Picture winner not in English.