Angie Nwandu On Running The Shade Room, Resilience, & Getting Support From Issa Rae
Since its launch in 2014, shadow room It has become the #1 destination for everything related to black culture, celebrity gossip and entertainment news. Founder Angelica “Angie” Nwandu says the popular site started as a side hustle after she couldn’t get a job, failed GMAT and LSAT, and needed money. “It was really like the experience,” she says. “I had no idea it would become this.”
The post now has a cult-like following with over 27 million followers on Instagram and 663,900 days Twitterand teen vertical with separate Instagram Which has 4.5 million followers. TSR is outpacing media giants like E! according to comscorea leading media measurement company.
Nwandu credits the post’s meteoric rise to its dedicated base, which she calls “Housemates”. The term came from one of her early loyalists—”I think she was her #5 follower,” the Los Angeles native recalls—because visitors “live” in TSR by their around-the-clock participation. They also often guide today’s coverage with the tips and scoops they offer. She also credits her staff of 31, including nine writers, for the site’s growth as they maintain the authenticity of TSR that it has come to represent, and unabashedly focus on black culture.
But more importantly, she says, is that if TSR was the first to disrupt the industry with social media blogging, there was an untapped market ready to be captured. “People wanted to look at their friends’ pictures and get the news on their feed at the same time,” the 32-year-old says of the gap she noticed. “I wanted it too. I wanted 24 hour news [and] I wanted it on social media…I wanted everything to be short and easy to digest [with] The content of the first image.
The name of the site is part of the vernacular casting shadows Sharing extreme honesty about someone or about a particular topic. Nwando said through TSR that she wants to redefine what it means to speak so frankly because she is tired of seeing “truth misunderstood as ‘shadow'”. Now she is preparing to add her love of screenwriting back into her daily life. Joe Joe. (In 2018, she co-wrote the award-winning film night comesstarring Dominic Fishback.)
Here, Nwandu talks about running TSR full-time, how she plans to expand publishing, and what it was like balancing that while working on her latest film with Universal Pictures, Issa Rae, and La La Anthony.
Lots of people have seen and heard about all of your accomplishments, but what was the trip to The Shade Room really like?
As a child, I started building resilience – facing difficult situations and keeping one foot in front of the other. When I was six, I was placed in a nursing home after my father, who is currently in prison, murdered my mother. The process was so painful: picking up my life and going to a new stranger’s house over and over again. I ended up getting a lot of physical and sexual abuse – it was a tough time. It took me a long time to be proud of my story. To say, “Look, it’s not my fault. This is not embarrassing” and march to victory.
I was in foster care until I turned 18, and then I went to Loyola Marymount University. The struggles did not end there. I graduated with a 2.8 GPA, was unemployed, and bombed all of my standardized graduate exams. I was in a place where I had nothing. I was even denied a job at Berry Bank. And I failed my first business, Juju’s Closet, an online store. I have nothing left. The idea for The Shade Room came from my interest in the media and needing to do something with my time while my friends were in law school, and it ended up working in my favor.
What inspired your journey in filmmaking?
Writing was my first love. I was trying to break into the film industry right before The Shade Room launched. I ended up writing the nights come with OzarkJordana Spiro. That story, like my next movie Joe JoeIt came from me thinking about my life, especially from the time I spent in the foster care system. The movie was good. She went to Sundance, was bought by Samuel Goldwyn Films, and won nine awards, including Sundance’s Next Innovator.
“Effective leadership is not about deadlines and rules. It is about inspiring people with the way you live your life.”
Talking about Joe Joe What is it and when can we expect to see it?
It’s a YA Black film that explores the culture of witchcraft in New Orleans and examines the downsides of trying to manipulate reality. It focuses on outcast high school students who are about to enter their senior year, desperately trying to finish with a bang. So they recruit another student with a deep history in magic to help them cheat the code and get whatever they want. They faced consequences along the way. As the old story goes, what you want is not what you need.
The idea came from my very hated high school experience. I was bullied because of my weight, and I remember it was so bad I couldn’t wait until my final year to leave and graduated early. I’ve always wondered, if there was a magical way I could have made an impact in high school, would I have benefited from it?
The project is still in development at Universal Pictures; We don’t have a release date yet.
How to balance work on Joe JoeScript and run the digital publication full time?
Writing the script was the most difficult. But I had support from Issa Ray – who is always looking for ways to uplift other black writers – and from Universal. Recently, the project team added another writer to paraphrase the script, which helped. But he also humiliated and challenged me because I felt some impostor syndrome, thinking, “Am I ready for this?” So having the support of my film project team and my Shade Room staff allowed for more balance.
How do you manage your daily responsibilities, such as preparing for meetings, when navigating this balance between script writing and running your TSR team? What is the main ingredient?
Delegation is the most important thing. Depending on where you are in business financially, get an assistant or two to help you organize your schedule. Then you have to show up. When you lead a company, it is very easy to fall back. But your team needs you to be there even if you’re not feeling inspired. In those moments, what helps the most is to prepare in advance: draw up an agenda with the specific topics that you will cover – this makes the meeting purposeful.
In terms of the characteristics to be effective at those things, intentional self-development has served me well. Effective leadership is not about deadlines and rules. It’s about inspiring people the way you live your life. To get to a place where people want you to lead them. This comes from being transparent with your team. As it is now, with inflation, I have been candid with employees about the suffering of any company as advertising is not what it once was. So, I am speaking honestly about my fears and doubts. My team told me that they respect this level of transparency. It builds confidence.
What is in your soul/self-care toolkit, and what are the best ways you have prioritized wellness?
When you run a business, you don’t get weekends or holidays like everyone else, and The Shade Room is 365. There have been years when I haven’t taken a vacation. But over time, I started to listen to my body more. Today, if I feel overwhelmed and can’t stand it, I call my assistant and say I need two weeks of books with no explanation. (I realize that this is a privilege). During that time, I usually travel and do nothing. Decompression is very important. If you don’t care about yourself, how can you appear in front of everyone else? You don’t have to wait until you’re empty because once you’re empty, that’s when you burn. And once you feel overwhelmed, you lose your passion. Once you lose your passion, what kind of business do you build?
In 2023, I plan to adjust my wellness strategy and deliberately change my environment and focus more on myself. I’m going to spend the weekend every month and go somewhere new. It could be a road trip an hour away or cross country.
You’ve done a lot with TSR, from doubling your revenue every year since your launch, introducing new segments, increasing advertisers to helping register 180,000 black voters during the last election, and encouraging the community to get vaccinated against COVID. What can we expect from TSR in the future?
Lots of programming content. We’re working hard on YouTube right now. our First interview show It got 2 million views. We are also developing more sectors, possibly fashion and food. We’ve gotten more involved in political coverage and investigative reporting. My dream is for The Shade Room to have the same access to Fox News or CNN when things happen in our culture. I feel like our stories are monopolized by big media companies, none of which is owned by black people. I want to be on the front lines and in the courtroom, which we’ve already started working on.
What would you say to someone who is thinking of breaking into your industry or starting your own?
Find out what your need is and what you feel is missing from the media. You can start by thinking about and making use of the voice(s) that you currently feel unrepresented. Once you do that, you’ll attract an audience that feels the same way too and become a nuisance in and of itself – and the nuisances always get the first fruit.
When you do something that is not available in the market, it can be intimidating. But the best way to be different is to know what you want out of the industry, to have faith, and to believe that others want the same. For The Shade Room, the whole idea started because of what I wanted from social media. At the time, no one was blogging on Instagram because they didn’t see the need for it, and they were wrong.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Don’t waste too much time worrying about the future. I’ve spent so many years stressed, depressed, and worried about what life would look like on the road that I’ve missed enjoying it.
So far, this would be the advice I would give myself. I still spend illegal time worrying about the next 10 years. Like, what would work look like? Will I fail? Because I have some perspective now, I challenge myself and say, “Wait a minute, remember how long you’ve spent worrying now? See what you look like now.” I try not to be afraid of the unknown anymore; I saw how the unknown worked in my favour. So I keep reminding myself of that — that I had this only life on Earth, and I don’t want to look back and say, “Damn, I’ve spent my whole life worrying and worrying and worrying.”
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.