ATLANTA, GEORGIA - DECEMBER 09: Janelle Monáe participates in Glass Onion Murder Mystery Experience Atlanta at Rooftop L.O.A on December 09, 2022 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Paras Griffin/Getty Images for Netflix)

Janelle Monáe Hosts ‘Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery’ Murder Mystery Party

Director-writer Rian Johnson’s “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery” will take its audiences to a murder mystery party alongside Detective Benoit Blanc once it comes out on Netflix on December 23. But I was still surprised when I was very literally invited to such a dinner event — and a press screening — hosted by none other than the film’s star, Black LGBTQ icon Janelle Monáe.

It all started when on the morning of December 8, I received a wooden box in the mail from a mystery sender. Opening it revealed a sliding puzzle at its floor, three pins lodged into both the right and left sides of its walls, and a message listed on the back of its lid.

It read, “Greetings, my dear friends, my beautiful Disruptors, my closest inner circle — I can’t wait for you to join me.” It was signed by Netflix.

I first set on solving the puzzle, which revealed two things: first, the “Glass Onion” title spelled in ornate yellow font; second, a hint in the sliding puzzle’s open tile in its bottom right corner.

“Push down on the corners,” it read.

Pressing down on the puzzle triggered a mechanism that caused it to disconnect from the box. Lifting it unveiled a secret compartment that contained a small black envelope. Inside was an invitation with a peculiar poem on its front, signed — of all people — by Monáe.

It read as follows: “The story starts now… / Leave your ego at door / Once you step inside / You won’t need it anymore / Come deign to celebrate / A night of revelry a sleuth / To uncover all your secrets / and the dark, unyielding truth.”

On the invitation’s back, Monáe further explained she was throwing a party for our beloved friend Darius, who recently passed away. This “funeral” was to be held the following day on December 9 at Slater Hospitality’s Rooftop L.O.A., a luxury coastal-European restaurant that stands atop The Interlock building in West Midtown – a fitting venue for a party hosted by Monáe.

Monáe’s invitation also asked me to bring the gift the box contained, but I had no idea what she was referring to — at least not until I noticed the clue hidden beneath the envelope.

The hint read, “You wanted a mystery… Remove the right pin to see through the center.”

I pulled on the center pin on the right side of the box. As it slid out of its slot, a spring-loaded drawer shot outward, and in it lied two white pearl cufflinks. They shined as if they had just been polished.

It was clear I had found everything I needed to attend the party, but I was still left with so many questions about this murder mystery in the making. Who was Darius? How did Monáe know him? Why was she hosting a dinner party to remember his life? And why was I gifted a puzzle box containing cufflinks?

Much the same happens in “Glass Onion.” In Johnson’s whodunnit, Alpha CEO Miles Bron (Edward Norton) invites four of his longtime friends to a murder mystery party hosted at his private estate in Greece, known as the Glass Onion. Similar to Monáe’s invitations, Miles’s are sent inside wooden puzzle boxes (albeit his are much larger and more cinematic). Miles also labels his inner circle “The Disruptors” — a group of people who approach limits and then breach them, whether that be through scientific exploration or spouting right-wing conspiracy theories online. In the film, the Disruptors consists of fashion designer and editor Birdie Jay (Kate Hudson); Connecticut Governor Clair Debella (Kathryn Hahn); men’s rights Twitch streamer Duke Cody (Dave Bautista); and Alpha’s lead scientist Lionel Toussaint (Leslie Odom Jr.).

All seems well until two unexpected guests become actual disruptors at Miles’s party. The first is Detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig), who returns to action after receiving an anonymous invitation in the midst of a COVID-induced depressive episode. The second is the mysterious Cassandra “Andi” Brand (Janelle Monáe), who was formerly CEO and co-founder of Alpha with Miles until the two had a falling out. Their presences cause a tension among the Disruptors that ultimately results in Miles’s murder mystery party becoming too real.

I got to view “Glass Onion” on December 4 at AMC Madison Yards 8 as part of the dinner party event. I had already seen it during its one-week stint in theaters Thanksgiving week. Both experiences saw packed theaters despite being limited events, and to no surprise: the first “Knives Out” amassed $312.9 million in the box office. “Glass Onion” earned between $13 million and $15 million in its single week in theaters.

I enjoyed “Glass Onion” both times I watched it, if not more on my second go-around. Johnson’s movies are all about their structuring; he can take a simple plot or genre story and fold its events and timelines onto themselves until the film becomes a piece of cinematic origami. Getting to watch “Glass Onion” the first time let me fully experience this paper flamingo of a film; getting to watch it a second time helped me see the careful craftsmanship put into its sculpting. Unfortunately, talking any more about the twists and turns Johnson puts into the mystery of “Glass Onion” requires delving into spoilers, so I will leave that discussion there.

Instead, I can focus on the magic Johnson gets his actors to perform. Craig gives another excellent outing as Benoit Blanc in this film, and if his flamboyance and Stephen Sondheim singing in “Knives Out” didn’t give it away already, his character is officially given a queer identity that roots some of his lovely eccentricities in “Glass Onion.” The real showstopper is Monáe, though. As Andy, she gives a layered performance that peels away to reveal its depths as the film goes on; she’s a true highlight in a year of many great supporting actress nominations.

After the film ended, Johnson and Monáe did a brief Q&A. Although not much of what was said can be shared due to spoilers, it was clear the two greatly admired each other. It was as if they both seemed starstruck even after making an entire film together and spending many nights with the rest of the cast playing games like Mafia. This made the large spread of lived-in performances in “Glass Onion” makes sense: Johnson gives his actors plenty of space and comfort to perform.

Monáe’s party for Darius started at 7pm on a Friday. The night was dark, rainy, and cold, and the streets were busy with cars and people. Though this was bad for the open rooftop venue that had to be covered up, it set the perfect mood for a night of mystery and drama.

Admittedly, I showed up unfashionably early, but being there first allowed me to gather the details about the night of Darius’s death before the party really started. The story went that Darius was the executive of a music label. He was killed in a fire on December 1 after he and his brother got into a drunken argument during a night on the town; Mike, this brother, then became CEO of Darius’s music label and could not stop bragging about it at the party. After their fight, Darius was driven home by his assistant, Daniel, who had dirt on practically everyone – save himself. Then, when Darius returned home, he was chased by an intoxicated Jenn with a butter knife; Jenn tried to convince Darius they were romantic partners and continued this mission at the party. Misha, Darius’s childhood friend and financial advisor, then showed up with several suitcases — apparently she had just come back from a mysterious trip to Puerto Rico. Finally, there was Darius’s magician-life coach who performed magic tricks while spouting positive affirmations; he wore what you’d think he’d wear: a fedora and suit vest.

The number of characters and layers Netflix and Monáe had prepared for this night impressed, and I felt as lost in the mystery as any of the characters in “Glass Onion.” Immediately, my radar picked up Mike as the potential killer. He had everything to gain from Darius’s death and only seemed too happy to brag about his winnings. But then again, if this story were to be anything like Johnson’s, nothing would be as it seemed and everyone would have to come under suspicion. Jenn had tried to attack Darius with a butter knife, Misha had gone on a mysterious trip the night of his death, Daniel was adamant of his innocence, and the magician-life coach was a magician-life coach. Needless to say, no one could be trusted.

Eventually, Johnson showed up with a small group of people. He was then followed up by model Cynthia Bailey, rapper Remy Ma, radio legend Ryan Cameron, and several more journalists and influencers. Last to arrive was Monáe. She adorned a black velvet vest and high-waisted slacks with a Chanel fedora and thick glasses; on her invitation, she asked us to dress to impress, and she was our example of how to do precisely that. Her arrival was soon followed by an announcement that it was time to start the dinner party.

Photo by Paras Griffin/Getty Images for Netflix

As it turned out, Monáe was selected by Darius to host this party prior to his death, as he suspected he was going to meet his demise at the hands of one of those closest to him. Indeed, Darius’s autopsy report showed that rather than dying in a fire, he was struck to death before his house caught flames. The cufflinks I was sent were also Darius’s, and everyone else at the table received similar items of his (e.g., ties, scarves, handkerchiefs). These clothing items, along with the autopsy report, photos of the crime scene, and a puzzle, were to be used by us to solve the mystery of Darius’s killer.

However, not all of us were allowed to solve the case. Monáe and the waiting staff handed out to each of us one of two cards: a heart or a skull. Those who received a heart were determined not to be suspicious and could focus on the puzzle and clues. Those who received a skull could possibly be the killer and had to prove their innocence with an alibi for the night of December 1.

I unfortunately was one of the potential killers, alongside Misha and Mike. Luckily, I had an alibi (that I had my friend Aditya make up on the spot over the phone — I was in bed alone by 9:00pm) so I could start solving the puzzle. Admittedly, it was very hard; even Johnson, who orchestrated the mystery of “Glass Onion,” could not solve it.

But none of us ended up needing to put puzzle together anyway. See, Misha and Mike were the only two characters with skulls who needed alibis to prove their innocence, and only one of them had a strong one: Mike. As it turned out, Mike had not killed his brother to become CEO as I had suspected. Instead, after he argued with Darius on the night of his death, he went to McDonalds to eat his feelings. Indeed, Mike had a lot of feelings: he ordered 120 chicken nuggets for himself. We all agreed no one would lie about something like that to save face.

This left Misha, whose only alibi was that she had a midnight flight to Puerto Rico the night of Darius’s murder (gasp!). Everyone then demanded her to open her suitcases, but when she tried to make a break for it, she and Daniel got into a tug-of-war over one of them that ripped it open. Thousands of dollars spilled out (bigger gasp!).

What ended up being revealed was that Misha had been in love with Darius since childhood. When Jenn started pressuring Darius into a relationship, Misha grew jealous, but not just for his love. Darius’s success and connections all drew her ire. So, on the night of December 1, in Darius’s library, Misha killed him with the fire poker after an argument; she lit the house on fire to hide the evidence; and flew to Puerto Rico to distance herself from the crime.

Misha was promptly arrested for her crimes, but in truth, the rest of the characters were guilty to some degree. Like in “Knives Out” and “Glass Onion,” everyone is in some way complicit, whether it be through their leeching, greed, or pride. Not even eating 120 chicken nuggets in one sitting could justify Mike boasting about taking his brother’s position; not even being completely innocent could justify the magician being a life coach.

The night Monáe, Johnson, and Netflix put on for us guests was filled with same types of twists and turns as “Glass Onion.” Everyone can have their own “Glass Onion” experience when the film releases on Netflix December 23.