Many know Angelica Nwandu as being the founder and CEO of The Shade Room. Her latest venture, however, has her wearing a new title as the writer for Universal Pictures' upcoming horror-comedy film, Juju.
Nwandu, alongside the team which includes media giant Issa Rae, actress and host Lala Anthony, director Thembi Banks and producer Deniese Davis, is jumpstarting her Hollywood career at the turn of Black women dominating the entertainment industry. Speaking with Shadow and Act, she explained her journey leading up to this milestone is her career and how she managed to take this step while still running her media empire.
"I thought my whole life I would be working towards writing. I didn't know I would take a pivot, go off to do The Shade Room, and come back to [writing]," she shared. "I always said I'm going to write something good and it took me a long time to navigate what I was going to be doing in writing." For Nwandu, her writing days have been a long time coming since she first became a Sundance Fellow, an opportunity that was granted to her after reading a poem called ‘Behind Bulletproof Glass’ at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. Sundance’s founding director Michelle Satter then immediately approached her with a $5,000 grant offer that eventually led Nwandu to write award-winning pieces.
Nwandu has now grasped the chance to be in development with major Hollywood production companies and premium cable networks to write original, linear content based on her and others' experiences. As the writer for Juju, Nwandu is not only pleased to bring her vision for a movie that hits close to home to life, but is happy she gets to explore this Hollywood journey with some Black women vets who understand her message.
"I'm happy for the U-turn that got me in me in the door and I'm excited to work with Black women because they just get it," she said. Thembi [and I] we were talking about the creative of [the film], what we want to do and how we want to get it on the mark to make it as authentic as possible. When we discussed ideas, they just flowed as if you were talking to your homegirl," she recalls about their early conversations.
After initially running the idea for the film by Anthony, Nwandu and her then got Rae on board to help produce and the rest was history. Getting these influential women together was important for Nwandu to showcase the talent across Hollywood and continue to uplift our voices in a way that creates more opportunities for others. Her overarching goal for Juju is to keep it relatable to the culture. "I'm excited to have [Juju] be in our voice and taste," she said. "I know that because we have so many Black women, who are in the culture and know it, coming together we're going to make sure it reflects us."
With so much focus now on the impact of Black stories in Hollywood, Nwandu understands how important it is for authentic language to be at the center of all Black-centric narratives. "I have learned how important it is to speak the same language because if you don't everything can just miss the mark," she shared. "The only way for me to have a project like this feel as authentic as possible is to have real people who are experiencing those things and who know the culture be a part of it."
Nwandu's pivot back to Hollywood doesn't mean she's taking a step back from running TSR, in fact, she's been figuring out how to balance both of her roles as both a business owner and employee at Universal Pictures.
"It's literally like I'm living a double life," she reveals, "but it has been a challenge keeping [TSR] and writing separate. On one side, I'm the CEO of [TSR] so I have so much agency to kind of move at my own pace, but over here I'm working as a hired contractor. I'm getting better at switching modes, but for me, it's like I'm sacrificing a lot at this time in my life for a lot of the dreams I have."
Running a popular entertainment hub has its pros and cons while also being a Hollywood writer, but Nwandu is learning to allow each talent to feed off one another to create a seamless synergy across her many projects. "I'm writing this movie, and then I have all of this inspiration from TSR," she says of balancing her double life. "All these funny and hilarious comments is like a factory of content that pours into my writing. It makes it gold to jump back and forth between both things because one inspires the other and vice versa."
As Nwandu continues to find her own footing in Hollywood, she hopes this current opportunity will open doors for other Black creatives to jumpstart their respective careers in the industry. "My goal is to partner with other Black creators because I feel like running TSR and writing is great, but there's so much more that can be done," she said. "Once I can open the door for others I want to work with other Black writers and producers, and be able to team up with people so we can have those stories that we really want and have a diverse range. I feel like there's so many stories that don't see the light of day because of a lack of resources so my dream is to use TSR to give that platform to other content creators."
Juju is still in the pre-production stage and more plot details are set to come at a later date.