For those of us who grew up in the golden age of gossip blogs, there aren’t too many things that surprise us in the current climate of media. 24 hour news coverage has been part of our daily lives since OJ took off in that white Ford Bronco in 1994. We remember going into AOL chat rooms and reading our favorite bloggers manifestos on our favorite celebrities. We created stan culture and pioneered fan sites. But social media ushered in a new level of celebrity worship that can now seem more personal. Instead of the illusion of closeness to the lifestyles of the rich and famous, we are receiving, seemingly, a first hand account shared in photos, videos and TikToks by the stars themselves. However, no account creates more of a frenzy than The Shade Room. Like it or not, it has become a central hub for all things Black media, gossip, breaking news and conversations that can quickly go left. In any corner of the internet, you will find someone discussing a topic they saw shared, reposted or stolen from the page that over 24.6 million people—more than CNN, TMZ and Buzzfeed—check-in with daily.
However, it's founder Angelica Nwandu's story that is just getting started.
What started as an attempt to put her life on course has blown up into a business that has banked over a million dollars in advertising revenue and that has given her a seat at the table. The 32-year-old is preparing to join forces with Issa Rae and Lala Anthony on the feature film JuJu while collaborating with Facebook Watch on original programming under The Shade Room’s moniker but still, like most of us, finds herself struggling to balance where she wants to be with where she currently is. Her dream to tell stories on a major level has come to her by way of a journey that she could never have written herself. And yet, she is the author of an accidental fairytale that any child of the blogging era would envy that doesn’t seem to be ending anytime soon.
Iman N. Milner: We all know what The Shade Room is but who is Angelica Nwandu?
Angelica Nwandu: That’s a hard question. Hmmm. I am a storyteller, a truth seeker, a giving person and a student of life, I would say.
IM: What would you say was the impetus behind The Shade Room?
AU: Well, in the beginning, it was an accident. It really was. I never wanted to be in journalism—that was never something I saw for my life. I was just a consumer of media. I loved Necole Bitchie, Bossip, Media Takeout—all of these sites, I loved it so much. At one point, I was unemployed. My friends were all in law school and grad school but I couldn’t get in because I didn’t have the grades. I felt like my life was over because I had this education but I didn’t know where I could go with it. So, I would call my friends and tell them the news. One of them suggested that I start my own site and I said “ok.” It was just a side hustle while I tried to pursue something more stable. I wanted to do screenwriting but I needed a way to make money. It became something that took over my life when I was only 23.
IM: Why The “Shade” Room specifically?
AU: It wasn’t until after I started running it that I even understood the name of it. It popped into my head one night and I decided to go with it. Later I understood the name and the platform. When I started it, I was so young and I wasn’t thinking about the responsibility of having a Black platform. I had to learn while I was doing it. On my own, you know? Now, for me, I feel like it’s just a reflection of Black culture. Black culture is multifaceted. It has positive and negative moments. It has funny moments and serious moments. We try to represent all of that. The trending topics as well as the tea.
IM: TSR definitely toes the line between having “the tea” and being a platform where news is shared, what is the litmus test for what you post?
AU: We just give our audience what they ask for. The “roommates” really control the content. They DM us every morning and tell us what they want posted. If we get 200+ DMs about something, we’re going to post it to our site. We verify if it’s true, of course, but we post what people want to see. We are more like moderators. We put the control in the hands of our audience because we feel like this is their site. Over time, we’ve been able to test the waters to see what they like and dislike. We get a bad rep for the tea because, honestly, we just post what’s going on. If two celebrities are going back and forth, it’s public and we’ll post that. And then we take the heat for it. Very rarely do we post something that is not already happening online.
IM: Why was it important for you to move into original programming under The Shade Room moniker?
AU: I’ve always had a dream to make original content. I think Black people need as much content as possible. We don’t have enough that is representative of our audience. Working with Facebook Watch has been great because we get to center Black creatives. They actually gave us the mandate that all of our shows had to highlight Black creators in some way. It challenged us and then we decided we want all of our content, moving forward, to do that. We did a cooking show that highlighted Black chefs, then Thick House features plus size models and now our new show, Love Locked, is all about helping Black influencers find relationships.
IM: What can we expect from Love Locked?
AU: We have two Black matchmakers who approach their craft from different perspectives. We had them match up 12 people in the house, six couples all together. What the matchmakers did was, they asked each person coming into the house what their dealbreakers were. And they were asked to share their own negative attributes as well as their positive ones. Every episode, people are eliminated based off of what the group considers a dealbreaker. It starts off looking like a complete shitshow but by the end it’s clear that the matchmakers knew exactly what they were doing. The final couple is exactly who they said would be the ideal match, possibly. We have young people from all over the country and they’re all creators in their own way. They find out a lot about themselves throughout the course of the show. I think people are going to love it.
IM: How are you handling this success that has come your way? How do you take care of yourself?
AU: Balancing it all is still something I struggle with, it does get stressful. But I feel like I am getting overwhelmed, I do put my sanity first. I will go somewhere and just sit. I’ve had moments where I’ve actually had a nervous breakdown because I was doing so much—it was bad. If you lose your mind, you can’t run anything. You have to put your health first. When I feel myself getting to that point, I clear the schedule. A lot of people don’t have that luxury and I understand that but I urge people to prioritize their health, always.