Monáe opened Sunday’s show with a medley of songs associated with some of the year’s most beloved films. The singer — appropriately wearing a red cardigan — kicked off the show by performing a version of the opening theme of Fred Rogers’ children’s television program, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”. Tom Hanks, who portrayed Rogers in A Beautiful Day In the Neighborhood, earned a Supporting Actor nod for his work, but the film itself was closed out of all other categories. Pose star Billy Porter then joined Monáe onstage for a version of Elton John’s “I’m Still Standing,” a nod to biopic Rocketman, which only earned a Best Original Song nomination for "(I'm Gonna) Love Me Again” this year.
It wasn’t just the music: In the background of Monáe’s performance were dancers dressed like characters across 2020’s most popular movies. While there were multiple performers cosplaying as Joaquin Phoenix’s Arthur Fleck from the heavily nominated Joker, the opening number also included people dressed like Eddie Murphy’s character in Dolemite Is My Name (no nods this year, despite Murphy earning a Golden Globe nomination for his performance); the red jumpsuit-wearing doppelgangers in Us, which was completely iced out of the award show this year despite a stellar performance by Nyong’o; and Florence Pugh’s character Dani in Midsommar. Though Pugh is nominated for her work in Little Women, Ari Aster’s movie didn’t get any love during awards season.
While Monáe did show love for films the Academy didn’t honor this year (or at least, didn’t honor enough), there was a bigger message to her opening number. She declared at the top of her act how proud she was to be a queer Black artist with the opportunity to share her stories with the world. She shouted out all the amazing women directors who, yet again, were not nominated.
When it comes to honoring diversity, Monáe's performance didn't hold back: The Oscars still has a long way to go.