Struggle is nothing to be ashamed of. Rather, it should be embraced as it is often one of the last stepping stones before reaching success. Years ago, Angie Nwandu found herself in a violence-ridden neighborhood in Hawthorne, California, behind on rent, and trying her best to make a name for herself. With no intention of becoming a social media empress, Angie learned how to monetize her brand by taking on paid advertisements and posting news-breaking celebrity gossip.
Once told that she would end up in jail or amount to nothing, Angie Nwandu is now credited for reinventing celebrity news. After Googling ‘How To Make Money From Blogging,’ an activity that Angie was interested in taking on as a side hustle, she created The Shade Room from her living room. Originally aiming to grow her Instagram side hustle to 100,000 followers, Angie has bypassed that goal for The Shade Room, with roughly 28 million followers. Now, the media founder and up-and-coming screenwriter wants to go from breaking the news to breaking the box office as a screenwriter.
Her Agenda recently caught up with Angie Nwandu about bouncing back, the power of writing, and the backlash that comes with running The Shade Room.
Her Agenda: Can you please tell us about your daily routine as CEO of The Shade Room?
Angie Nwandu: I'm one of those people who hates routine. I don't know what it is about me, I [can’t] do the same thing every day in my life. Every day looks different. I do travel a lot for business [and] have a lot of meetings or interviews. No day is the same, but I do wake up extremely early. The only thing consistent now is that I’ve incorporated working out in the morning but everything else is inconsistent and I like that.
Her Agenda: I saw on an Instagram post you made a while back that you Started The Shade Room in your apartment in Hawthorne, California and you were behind in rent at the time. Looking back, what do you feel was the beauty in your struggle?
Angie Nwandu: You know what? Sometimes I actually miss those days. I know that sounds crazy because when you're going through struggle, there's something about being on the bottom that is really inspiring. You don't see it at the time, but the future can be written. When I was in Hawthorne, my life was completely falling apart [and] I didn't have a job. But, when I got the idea for The Shade Room, I imagined what the future could be and it [felt] like endless opportunities. And, you have a hustle [then] that I don't think you can get back. There’s something about having nothing that makes you work like crazy. There was one day when I worked 24 hours [straight] on The Shade Room.
I was motivated by my situation because ain’t no way I was going to continue eating off $10 a week and top ramen. [For] anybody [who is] in a situation at the bottom or feels like they’re suffering, it's hard to enjoy the moment, but you’re going to [have] certain things that you may never get back. When you're at the bottom, the only place to go is the top. When you start climbing up that ladder, you start to think, I can go further or I can go down.
Her Agenda: I’ve noticed that your Instagram handle is @NoIGAngelica and you frequently take social media breaks. Why exactly do you distance yourself from social media and how has it impacted your mental health?
Angie Nwandu: I think everybody should take breaks from social media. You should not be on social media every day. Let's talk about the average person that's on social media. Everybody is showing the best [parts] of their life, so it changes the way that you view your life. You think, ‘Wait, I see everybody living this amazing life. They're in Turks and Caicos, they're partying it up at Diddy’s house.’ And you’re like, my life doesn't seem like a constant highlight of amazing moments. But, nobody's life is like that. You could then look at your life and think ‘I'm losing.’ [Social media] has that ability because you can't see how other people are really living. Someone could post [being] at a party and go home and cry because they hate their life. You question your human experience because you don't see [other] human experiences. You see [others] having a perfect life.
Her Agenda: I’ve noticed how popular The Shade Room is, especially within the hip-hop community. When the time comes that you do get backlash, like the instance with Cardi B, how exactly do you handle that and move forward as a CEO?
Angie Nwandu: The whole situation with Cardi B and any other, is I’m still learning. My friends will call me out, and they aren't afraid to tell me the truth. One of my friends [said], ‘You take things too personally, you’re too sensitive.’ For me, most of the time, I do well [with] backlash [and] I’ll just [understand] that it's not personal. Celebrities are sensitive about how they are portrayed and if it were me in their position, I might be sensitive too. As a celebrity, not everyone is going to like you.
My friend said ‘Well how about you? Not everyone is going to like you.’ It was a matter of self-reflection because I went on Twitter and was going back and forth with [Cardi B] and I was like ‘Why am I doing this on my business page?’ Me and [Cardi B] talked and I was like, ‘Ok, Cardi I hear your point, now here's my perspective.’ It's business, you're a celebrity, and the media is going to cover you. Sometimes it's good, sometimes it's bad. I have a media company, sometimes people will like it, and sometimes people won't. I'm learning [for] the future, to allow that space for people to have their own opinions about what you do and who you are.
Her Agenda: The Shade Room has been deleted by Instagram a few times, which I heard you have nightmares about. Something that I've noticed about your platform is how you always bounce back quickly. What do you think is the key to bouncing back?
Angie Nwandu: Faith is the key. I talk about faith a lot because faith is so important. What people don't know is that I'm very spiritual [and] I'm very tapped into Jesus. One of the scriptures that I love the most is ‘Faith is the assurance of things you cannot see.’ When you dig deep into that, it's about belief and your perspective on [a] situation. When I look at those moments when The Shade Room was taken down, the first time it was taken down at 500k followers. If at that moment I said ‘I’m done, everything is over for me,’ I wouldn't have started again to see where we are now at 27 million followers. When you believe that there is something greater coming, no matter how unreasonable the situation feels when you get back up and say ‘no, better is coming’ the world literally bends to you. Start over [and] keep going.
Her Agenda: Other than celebrity news, I know that you are also a screenwriter. Can you please speak on the power of writing and how it has helped you?
Angie Nwandu: Being in media was never a goal for me or something that I ever saw myself doing. I’ve always wanted to be a writer, period. Throughout my life, my teachers and everybody would say, ‘You know you're supposed to be a writer.’ I've always felt like writing was my highest purpose in life and my screenwriting journey has been interesting. Before The Shade Room, I had a script go to Sundance and it was the first time that I believed in myself.
Over the course of that, I had a deal with HBO and I got fired. I had a deal with Universal Pictures [and] I'm still producing it. But, it’s still a story by me, but I got taken off as a writer because I submitted my script and they were like, ‘You need a bit more work and experience.’ All of my dreams came crashing down and I thought ‘Maybe I'm not supposed to be a writer.’ Two days ago, I felt it in my spirit to work on this project and I'm getting back up again because [screenwriting] is really my dream. It challenges me to the highest level. Screenwriting means everything to me and I'm finding myself in that. I know that in the future, it will be the major thing that I'm doing. Writing, film, and production is my highest purpose.
Her Agenda: DJ Khaled said when people didn't believe in him God did. How did you handle moments when people didn’t believe in you?
Angie Nwandu: I don’t think a lot of people believed in me. I grew up in foster care and I was a very combative child in school. I grew up with a lot of people thinking that I would end up in jail. DJ Khaled [saying] ‘God did’ is so big for me because sometimes the world will tell you who you are, and God will tell you who you really are. You’ll think ‘Oh, let me elevate myself because God sees me this way even though everyone else doesn't.’ You can't be boosted by what people say and you can't be reduced either.
Her Agenda: You are credited for reinventing celebrity news. Despite the titles that people give you, how do you want to be remembered?
Angie Nwandu: I want my legacy to be an example of someone who wasn't dealt the best cards in life, who God believed in, and who was able to change my life. I want people to say the beginning of her life looked nothing like the end. And, that is enough to inspire people. I also want to be known for giving. I want to be a philanthropist and give because people gave to me during times when I needed it. If it weren't for all of the people that were a part of my journey, I wouldn’t be here so I want to be that person to others.
[Editor's note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.]