Janelle Monae Delivers Powerful Speech While Accepting SeeHer Award at 2023 Critics Choice Awards

Janelle Monáe receives the SeeHer award at Critic's Choice Awards
Kevin Winter/Getty Images for Critics Choice Association

The honor was presented to the actress by her 'Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery' co-star Kate Hudson.

Janelle Monáe took the stage to accept the 2023 SeeHer award during Sunday's 2023 Critics Choice awards. According to the Critics Choice Association, the honor is presented to a woman who advocates for gender equality, portrays characters with authenticity, defies stereotypes and pushes boundaries.

Prior to taking the stage, the 37-year-old was celebrated for her representation of women through her work on screen, on stage and behind the microphone. Kate Hudson, who starred alongside the "Make Me Feel" singer in Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery, spoke highly of her co-star.

"The stories we tell shape how we see ourselves, each other, and the world around us and they have the power to connect and unite us," Hudson said. "Tonight we recognize an extraordinary person whose work on and offscreen has helped advance gender equality. Someone who portrays characters with authenticity defies stereotypes, pushes boundaries and inspires the next generation to see themselves as they are in their fullness and in all their potential." 

Hudson then introduced a montage of past honorees' speeches, including moments from Viola Davis, Kristen Bell, Claire Foy, Gal Gadot, Zendaya, and Halle Berry. 

"There are so many ways to describe Janelle," Hudson continued. "Visionary artist, brilliant musician, inspirational one-of-a-kind human being. I remember the moment we met on Glass Onion, Janelle walked down this staircase in this bright yellow dress just exuding goddess regal energy and it was like the seas parted." 

Hudson continued her anecdote, "Everyone's jaws dropped and the room instantly fell in love. It's hard not to. But to know her, to see the care and dedication she nurtures in her relationships and in her art is to really fall in love with her. Not only has this music icon earned eight grammy nominations, but Janelle's acting roles have included some incredibly bad-ass women, many of whom were bad-ass women in real-life, like the brilliant engineer Mary Jackson in Hidden Figures and the determined feminist Dorothy Pitman Hughes in The Glorias."

Hudson continued the list: "And then there are the original roles she delivered with such empathy and authenticity: Teresa in Moonlight. Marie Buchanon in Harriet. And my bias, my personal favorite, Cassandra Brand in Glass Onion."

Hudson finished her speech by concluding, "But perhaps the true achievement lies in what Janelle has done for others through her activism on behalf of women, LGBTQ+ communities and race equality. She was recently honored as the Suicide Prevention Advocate of the Year by The Trevor Project. She is the co-chair of When We All Vote and spearheads the Fem The Future initiative. She is an advocate, an ally, a warrior." 

Hudson then introduced a second video honoring Monáe and her various roles before inviting Monáe onstage to accept the honor. 

Monáe accepted the statue and delivered one of the evening's most inspiring speeches. 

"Kate, I love you so much," she began her speech. "You are a sister. You are a force, and thank you for your time."

"I'm Janelle Monáe and my pronouns are she, her, they, them," she began. "But to her, a mother figure like my character Teresa, to an abandoned LGBTQIA+ person, because the family they were born into won't accept them, I see you. To her, working in STEM like Mary Jackson, whose brilliant mind continues to advance the technology of this world that you are still fighting for equal pay, I see you. To the schoolteacher like Helen, risking your life every day to teach our kids because we still can't get gun-control together in this country, I see you." 

Monáe continued with her tributes. "To her, with big ideas, like Andi, who constantly has to deal with billionaire douchebags with no original ideas parading around his genius, I see you. These are just a few of the characters I've had the honor of playing. And I tried to make an effort in my work, whether it's storytelling through music, through film, through TV, to fashion, literature, to highlight the ones who've been pushed to the margins of society, who have been outcast or relegated to the other."

Monaé added: "This is a deeply personal choice for me because I grew up to working-class parents. My mother was a janitor, my father was a trash man, and my grandmother was a sharecropper in Aberdeen, MS. It's personal because I am nonbinary. I am queer and my identity influences my decisions and my work. I have always believed that through storytelling, we are able to shed light on the human experience, and experience that most people around this world won't get an opportunity to see. I kind of keep this glimmer of hope in my heart that when someone meets a character like the ones that I've had an opportunity to play, you be more empathetic to their experience, more empathy. You want to be more like them. You want to be more kind, less judgmental, more eager to advocate for them.

Monáe added a few more moments of reflection on how far she has come. "There were many times, to sit up here, I know I am dressed up. All of that. But there were so many times in my life, y'all, where I couldn't see me. I couldn't see my light. I couldn't see past my circumstances. If you know my story, I wasn't supposed to make it out of Kansas City, KS, and be here tonight. I wasn't. I didn't see the vision clearly for myself. I couldn't see my gift. I couldn't see what my purpose was supposed to be at that time. But thank you, god, so many other people did. They didn't give up on me and they gave me opportunities despite my own lack of confidence. I was faking it until I made it. 

Monáe ended, "To anyone out there like me watching right now, I just want you to know that I see you. Challenge you to see you. Thank you to see her and thank you to the critics choice association for recognizing me. I stand in the biggest puddle of gratitude and for making me the recipient of the 2023 SeeHer award. Thank you. 

In addition to taking the stage to accept the SeeHer award, Monáe was nominated in the Best Supporting Actress category for her role in Glass Onion