It’s the start of the new year, so I thought I would kick-off the month with the blog series- Black Girls Rock. It’s also been a while since I posted anything on the series, so I was very glad when I came across this media personality- Angelica Nwandu. I was doing research on a project completely unrelated when I stumbled upon this female entrepreneur. Just reading her story, I felt empowered, so I knew without a doubt that she had to feature in my Black Girls Rock series.
Angelica Nwandu is a Nigerian-American celebrity gossip blogger, and founder of ‘the Shade room’, which is an online (mainly Instagram) forum that provides the latest in celebrity news and gossip, predominately within the African American community. It is a platform that delivers up to date (or real life) entertainment celebrity news. Since its establishment in 2014, The Shade room has amassed over 7 million followers, with celebrities like Chris Brown, the Kardashians and Nicki Minaj frequently commenting on the site’s Instagram account. The New York Times called it the TMZ of the internet, and It has been compared to online media sites like Bossip and MediaTakeOut. In 2016, Forbes magazine said Angelica Nwandu “revolutionised celebrity gossip” and featured her on its list of 30 under 30. TechCrunch; an information and technology website, listed her as one of the “top 18 Females founders who killed it in 2015”, while BuzzFeed said that Nwandu is “figuring things out faster than everyone else”. What makes the Shade room different from other celebrity sites is the way news is reported. Nwandu credits the platform as being “a click away from the celebrities we are writing about. They are talking on social media, we are talking about them on social media, so it’s easy for them to come right to us to continue the conversation. And everyone who follows these celebrities can join in the conversation as well”. Although the site is not without controversies due to the nature of its content Nwandu believes that the Shade room provides the right platform for sharing opinions and stimulating public debate.
Angelica Nwandu may look like an overnight success story, but her path to media stardom was not without its difficulty. Born in 1989, Nwandu suffered a traumatic childhood, due to the death of her mother, who was killed by her father, when she was just six years old. She was later taken into foster care, where she struggled emotionally and this led to a troubled childhood. Nwandu says that the constant anger she felt caused her to fight with other kids. But all this changed at the age of twelve when she met a mentor from a kid’s programme; that helped young people cope with negative emotions, by finding a creative outlet to express them. Nwandu’s path to self-discovery and healing began when she took up writing, and this became her therapy.
She later went on to attend Marymount University on a full scholarship, where she studied accounting and human resources. After graduation, she was employed at a motorcycle shop doing mostly paperwork and filing taxes, but her passion for writing remained. Through the help of her mentor, Nwandu was introduced to screenplay writing, and for the first time, she knew she was doing something that she loved. Nwandu quit her job and focused on her new passion- writing. Not long after, she was selected to attend a screenplay casting in Sundance, where she presented an emotional piece about a foster child whose father had killed her mother. This exposed her to the world of screenplay writing and gave her an opportunity to meet Hollywood writers and producers like Quentin Tarantino etc. The piece was so touching that the Founding director of the Sundance institute gave her a grant to start writing on a professional level.
With no background in writing, Nwandu started reading screenplays and watching old movies to help her in her new-found role. She also spent a lot of time on celebrity blog websites, which deepened her curiosity (given that she already liked celebrity news) on the subject. Nwandu says she slowly became obsessed with celebrity entertainment news, but most of her friends thought it was an unhealthy “hobby”. After months of being broke, and unemployed Nwandu decided to put her talents to good use. In 2014, she started the “The Shade Room”- a celebrity entertainment gossip site, which provides the latest in celebrity news and gossip, predominately within the African American community. Nwandu didn’t know the first thing about creating a website, so she started an Instagram account instead, where she would post daily on celebrity happenings; what they said, did and went. The more she posted, the more followers she got, and by the end of the second week, she had over 10, 000 followers. The thrill she got with every new follower only fuelled her desire to do what she loved (even though she had no idea how to make money from this new venture). All she knew was that if she had enough followers it would soon translate into money.
As her followers on the shade room grew, she extended to other social media platforms, including Facebook, a website and a YouTube page. But, her rise to media stardom was almost derailed in December 2014, when the site’s Instagram account was accidentally deleted. She lost more than 500 000 followers and had to rebuild it all over again. Now it has more than 7 million followers. In April 2016, she had another setback when Facebook deleted The Shade Room’s account citing “violation of community standards”. Nwandu says this devastated her, as it had acquired close to 5 million followers. She couldn’t imagine starting all over again; all the hard work and sacrifice. She wasn’t sure she could handle it all. However, the brand is slowly rebuilding its Facebook fan base and has acquired over 200 000 followers to date.
Today, the Shade room is one of the fastest growing online media brands. It hires a small team of about 20 people who work around the clock to ensure that they continue to provide the best in celebrity entertainment news to their followers. The brand has also received offers from various studios wanting to invest in it to make it a digital empire.
In all this Nwandu is grateful for her success, particularly for being the first one in her family to reach this level of success. Although she is still dealing with the trauma from her childhood, she hasn’t let it stop her from being successful. She says that if anything it has contributed to her journey. It helped her find a creative outlet in writing, which she used to realise her dream.
A few last words
Nwandu’s story and rise to success is an inspirational one. This is because, from the onset, the odds were against her; she experienced a traumatic childhood, grew up in foster care, and got in trouble at school. Realistically speaking, the odds were against her. Some would even go as far as saying that she was destined to fail. But Nwandu refused to allow her circumstances dictate her future. Instead, she found a positive way to channel her emotions and followed her passion. Along the way, she lost her job and had two major setbacks while trying to establish her brand “The Shade Room”. Even with this, she powered through. Today, The Shade Room is one of the fastest growing online media enterprises and its founder, Angelica Nwandu is one of a few black women to run a media business.
Angelica Nwandu is a Black Girl that Rocks because hers is a tale of resilience in the face of insurmountable obstacles.
Photo credit 1 and 2: Cosmopolitan