Angelica Nwandu didn’t always have a way with words.
Nwandu—who grew up in Los Angeles’ foster care system—performed at poetry slams with the nonprofit Peace4Kids and recalls that her first piece “was pretty much a poem that said, ‘Fuck social workers.’”
But the founder of The Shade Room—which now has over 22 million devoted followers on Instagram—has since found her voice. After nearly seven years at the helm of one of Instagram’s most trafficked pages, which runs the gamut from covering celeb gossip to tracking Capitol Hill chatter, Nwandu now has a feature film writing credit under her belt and a screenplay in the early stages of production.
Despite her growing empire, Nwandu has held on to her down-to-earth charm. She’s upbeat, funny, and gives off girlfriend vibes from the moment we begin chatting. Her publicist and assistant are on the line, but it feels like it’s just her and me—two Black women in media, talking about the nuances of our chosen profession and the lessons we’ve learned along the way. It’s encouraging to hear how the entrepreneur, who’s been featured in publications from Essence to Forbes, found success on her own terms.
We spoke about realizing your value, keeping a dream alive in the face of rejection, and what it’s been like working with Issa Rae and LaLa Anthony on her horror-comedy film, Juju.
Lean in to what you do well.
I was always interested in stories, whether it was people’s love life or what was happening in the media. So, when I was unemployed after I had lost my job, I just started telling stories and then relaying those stories to my friends who were too busy to engage in that type of stuff. It was after college. Everybody had graduated, and all my friends were in grad school. At that time I just remember one of my friends saying, “You tell stories so well, why don’t you just set up your own site?” And that was what led to the start of The Shade Room. What I was doing for my friends wasn’t in a proper format, with all the journalistic standards for grammar, but they were entertained. So I just said, “Okay, I’m going to tell these stories exactly the way that I would tell it if I were talking to my friends.” My friends want their news short, sweet, and to the point. I see Roommates as my friends, and I relay stories to them like I would in a text message. It works.
If there is a will, there is a way—the payoff only comes once you’ve put in the work.
I didn’t know what The Shade Room would be, but I just knew it would be something—that it was worth putting all the time in. And so, it took eight months of not making any money, because I didn’t know how to monetize it yet. For eight months I was just working while my money was running out—working, and working, and working, and working, and believing in something. But I did it because I had so many people who were talking me up every day. When I wanted to quit, they were there to say, “No, this is going to be big.”
Sometimes a crisis will be your best motivator.
I knew there was a way to monetize The Shade Room because I had an audience. So as long as you have an audience, you have the ability to monetize. But I just didn’t know how to make it happen. It wasn’t until I was about to be evicted that I figured it out. I had to pay rent and I knew when I wrote the check to the apartment manager, I didn’t have the money. I wrote it to her on Friday, this was on the first, and I told her, “Cash it on the last day of the grace period.” So I had less than three days to figure out how to make money.