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Shoniqua’s Queendom

Shoniqua’s Queendom

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There is power in manifesting the mind. The process of manifesting may differ from person to person since there is no single right approach. Trial and error may be necessary to find what works. This is how Shoniqua Shandai’s story goes from start to finish. Simply stating that she was a girl with big dreams would not be enough. She was a girl that prayed, a girl that worked hard and it took a family to believe in her wholeheartedly. The day of the shoot, she walked in with an effervescent presence that filled the room. Over the course of a full-day photo shoot, Shandai, gave what needed to be given -face, grace and curves!

Photography: Felix Natal, Jr.; Hair: Aggie hair; Stylist: Vernise Dai Hardmon; Make up: Crystal Smith; Braiding hair: New Village Hair

T: I’m going to do this interview to create a stronger connection with you. As we have plans to do so much more with you on this journey.

S: Yes, ma’am..

T: Personally, you know, I love the show. Obviously right. That’s why we’re here. I watched the season twice. I watched it by myself. And then during the Christmas holiday, my mom was here, and I introduced her to the show. I rewatched it and said, “come on Ma, let’s get into this Queen”. As I looked at this big haired chocolate woman with a gap-toothed smile like mine, I thought to myself, “I see you.”

S: Aww thank you so much.

T: I’m a big fan of your character, period. (laugh)

S: Come on.

T: I feel like we all have that creative friend, right?! Actually, I am that creative friend. I have slept on some couches. I have been in between jobs, and just like here, following my career and not really caring what anyone thinks. I’m here for Miss Angie and love how unapologetic she is.

S: I totally love that.

T: But of course, to get us here, I had to learn who Shoniqua was, so I logged on and did the, you know, Google search. I saw that you were born in New York, raised in Virginia and this show has brought you back. Now, what part of New York City?

S: I was born in Brooklyn. Okay, but when I went back and visited my grandmother, I would stay in Harlem. I would spend an occasional summer in Harlem. I feel like I got a little bit of a good mixture, because a big part of me is very Southern. I love tradition, moving at a slower pace, looking at clouds, saying “yes, ma’am” & “thank you”, and overall kindness. But I’ve always been eccentric, you know, that is the city, you know? I’ve always felt, even while I was raised in the South, as if my wings are being caged, as if there is more room to me than I can express.

T: I overstand that, I too have lived this experience.

S: I used to get side glances all the time, because I’ve always been vibrant, you know what I mean?
Dressing the way I dressed always came naturally to me, and I have a passion for more, you know. Even with the South having a lot of black folks, there’s still a lot of oppression in the minds of black people. There’s also physical oppression and the government system, which still works off of systemic oppression.
But with the mindset of oppression that happens in the South, I would get questions like, “who do you think you are?” Sadly, it came from people who look like me, so it’s not okay.

T: That makes sense.

S: So I was like, I gotta go. I felt like I had more to give the world. I want to be brighter. There are more colors to this rainbow of life. And so I moved to LA when I was 17, and that’s where I felt like I had stepped into womanhood. Those LA streets helped develop the woman I am today.

Shoniqua Shandai for TXTURE Photography: Felix Natal, Jr.; Hair: Aggie hair; Stylist: Vernise Dai Hardmon; Make up: Crystal Smith;     Braiding hair: New Village Hair; Dress: Kari Ma “Yahari” Dress

T: So at that point in time, when you relocated to LA, was it to pursue your career?

S: Yes, my family was on board and believed in me. Even when I said I was marrying all of the members of B2K and be in a Bow Wow movie- the next ‘Lottery Ticket’ or “Roll Bounce’ movie, they had my back. (laughing).

T: Yes. I love that. The encouragement of family is very important in this industry.

S: Yeah, but unfortunately, by the time I started working Bow Wow wasn’t making movies anymore

T: Listen, we might be able to get him back out just for you. (laughing). Let’s talk about both talents.

Because you have acting as well as singing under your belt. How did you balance the two?

S: My main focus has always been acting. It started with my grandmother singing ‘Home’ to me almost every other night from the Wiz. My favorite movie that really impacted me as a youth was “What’s love got to do with it.” It was music, fashion and also it was being able to see a struggle that I recognized. I grew up in a single parent home. My mother was a single mother. My grandmother was in a very abusive relationship. So seeing this Black woman struggling and seeing her pain on screen, and seeing how she built this alter ego on stage that empowered her. She used that alter ego to push through. It gave her the strength to move on. It was like being able to see everything I love in one medium. Plus, being from the South and having the audacity to shine – to be different, and stand up and say, “I’m gonna do this”.

T: I love how you connected the dots that align with who you are to your core.

S: I fell into acting first because I felt I could hide more. I have been through a lot from being bullied to being homeless. We were homeless several times, and I experienced sexual abuse. Therefore, I would be able to disappear. But because God does not let you get off your path, every pivotal moment in my acting career has been music related. I feel like God said, “girl, you ain’t running away from this. Even if you wanna hide, I can’t allow you to lose what I created you to be”.

T: Whoo chile, you’re preaching.

S: At that point I had worked on a few plays & films that allowed me to sing and rap, but then I tell you the Lord don’tplay no games when it comes to Shoniqua Shandai [speaking in third person], even when she’s running from herself, he said, “I’m gonna put you right back on this path”.

T: That is an amazing feeling when you finally discover your true purpose.

S: Even in the midst of this deal, while discovering Angie, I wanted to connect with her. One way was through fashion. Fashion is my language. Even when I’m super shy, I will speak with my clothes. The second thing is what is this person’s obsession? Like me, Angie is passionate about music. During the pandemic we had a year off, so I decided to work on my music. Through this, I could relate to her in a way that was off the page. So all of this music started coming out of me, some very Angie-like songs that the world will never hear. (laughing).

T: Ha! I would love to hear, now I’m curious.

S: Yes, girl – my momma could never hear them either. I remember shyly asking Meagan [Good], “would you direct a video for me?” and her replying, “girl whatever you want”.

T: That’s sisterhood. I love that.

S: When people hit you with that amount of support, and let you know this is a safe space.

I had no choice but to send her the song. She’s so open and so kind and so supportive and just genuinely one of the most beautiful human beings I’ve ever met. Inside and out.

Like, literally. She is one of the angels God sent my way.

T: See, and you thought she wasn’t gonna like it, she came back with a whole treatment for you to move

S: Right?! It was incredible. She is reason for my single, “Something About You” coming out.

Directed by my personal hero, Meagan Good. And it blows my mind that not only will God

do a thing, but he will do it in such a miraculous and full circle of a way that is undeniably him.

In school, I studied Meagan Good’s monologues in school. Please know my inspiration is God, My Mom, Beyonce & Meagan Good! So to have my breakout role on a TV series starring someone I’ve studied and was obsessed with, but also, this humongous moment for me in music, being supported by my sister, and having the opportunity to even call her sister is a dream fulfilled.

Just thinking back to eight of us staying in a two-bedroom apartment and the only DVD I had that was children friendly was “Roll Bounce”, with Meagan Good & Bow Wow. Malcolm D. Lee, who directed the first two episodes of Harlem, when I say, I am in the middle of a prayer!

T: My God, yeah, you have a lot of full circle moments. I mean, I’m just connecting all of these dots just listening to you speak. It’s beautiful when you can do that. You see the purpose of all things when that happens.

S: Exactly, I booked Harlem that because I worked hard, but when it’s so divine, I can’t ignore the greatness and the presence of God in my life, because he’s truly made my life a whole beautiful symphony.

First of all, I must say that I am truly blessed. I’ve watched enough episodes of ‘Unsung’.

And everybody has a story of some type of tragedy, something that happened that was traumatic.

And for whatever reason, for whatever reason, these are moments where we are able to prove ourselves our worth. And those moments that you had, you know, three to four months watching ‘Roll Bounce’, somebody might be like, “girl, what? That’s horrible”. (Laughing). Yet it all came to fruition because you needed to study that, because you were about to work with this person. You had no idea what your life was about to be. And the amazing part is, you know, your family, they took that leap of faith, you know what I mean? Cause they could have just stayed in Virginia, honey.

S: Okay?!

Shoniqua Shandai for TXTURE Photography: Felix Natal, Jr.; Hair: Aggie hair; Stylist: Vernise Dai Hardmon; Make up: Crystal Smith:    Earrings: Karidja & Khadij “MIA” earrings; Braiding hair: New Village Hair


T: Your story would have been completely different, and that would have been a shame because I love that THIS is your story. As far as Miss Angie, what do you love most about playing her?

S: Heyyyy!

T: My God, you just jumped into character just now. I love that. Ha,ha.

S: Yass. She’s so recognizable, yes, that she’ll sit in me. And then I find myself doing things that are not Shoniqua. (laughing). My favorite thing about playing Angie- there’s some benefits to being Angela Wilson. She has really blessed my life by the incredible women that I get to see on set. By being themselves, they are taking up space. It’s been such an empowering moment for me. Additionally, Angie introduced me to music – My music. She has taught me how to love myself in spite of any circumstance. She is the epitome of Episode Seven, even though she is black and from a very strong black family. My mom worked her way all through chemo. She had breast cancer, but she never took a day off. Because she is an example of a strong black woman. Our worth is also attached to our productivity. On the slave blocks, it was primarily based on how much they can work. That’s how much they are worth. Even for me, my worth is attached to what I’m doing.

What I learned from Angie, for example, when people ask, “what do I bring to the table”?
Angie would say, “B*tch, we built the table! My people made the foundation of
street and the pavement that brought you to this location. Okay”?!

Me being in the room is enough. I ain’t got to bring nothing but me.

T: Okay, this is an entire Angie monologue right there. Like when she was quitting the “Get Out’ play.

S: Yass! Okay?!

T: I really wanted her to say all of that, because I was like, yes, honey!

S: She has bought me so much love. Even when she is sleeping on somebody’s couch, in sweat pants,

hair tied, no makeup on, she is Beyonce in every moment.

T: Yes. Yes, you are. And you taking up space, honey, in that room. I loved it. I love that this character is unapologetic and not afraid to just be who she is, flawed and all. A lot of people can learn from that – I have personally lived through that! I hope that when they watch her in this new season, they get that as well.

Because it takes a certain type of person to be that outspoken. It takes a certain type of person to wear bright colors.

S: I’m here to tell my story. This is where I come from. This is who I am. I’ve had my trials, my tribulations, but I am here, you know? Because we all know that this journey gets us right to that moment that we’re at right now, in this moment. None of this is by chance.

T: Facts! We’re all supposed to meet all these people at these moments. I love that you are on a show that embraces you. You’re not just coming there to clock in and clock out. I love that Megan has embraced you in such a way that even the projects that you have outside are part of this journey together. Now, music, the soundtrack was a really big part of the show for me. I actually found my wedding song while watching the show.

S: Are you serious?! That is so beautiful.

T: Insecure was influential for me in music, but prior to that, I was a big fan of Black and Sexy TV.
I have found so many amazing artists from Black and Sexy TV. Numa Pierre, one of the creators of B&S was someone that we featured during the beginning of TXTURE. It was a LA monumental movement. I got that same feeling when I watched ‘Harlem’. Is your music going to be a part of this soundtrack? Is that something that you guys are working on?

S: Well, one thing Tracy Scott, one of our EPs, heard about my music. A second single plan is in the works. They are so supportive of us as actors, musicians and directors. I know that that’s something that will be embraced. I always say that artistry, to me, is liquid, it’s fluid, and it all flows into separate areas and expresses itself. Including yourself – you are an editor, a writer, and a former makeup artist. Black people are just some of the most creative, innovative beings on this planet.

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T: What is the legacy that you would like to leave behind? I know it’s a loaded question, but I know there is more to you in the works.

I would like to be a force in removing the limitations and barriers faced by people of color, including Black women -curvy women [and men]. People who are not blonde, sis gender, white males with blue eyes. I feel like, specifically, as a Black curvy woman, there is such a humongous barrier and limit, just a very small space that we are allowed to play in. We are allowed to be creative in the world, yet we are the most diverse beings. It’s no T, it’s no shade; it’s about the duality, complexity, and the vastness of black women. There’s a new wave of Black male vulnerability that is happening now in cinema that I am just obsessed with. It dates back to the Mandingo complex. The macho, you know, these disgusting stereotypes that have been placed on us, that we are either there to be a servant or a mammie.

I want to continue to be human, because you have brought us the most human black girl character without it being stereotypical, without being ghetto. And that’s, that’s what I like about it.

You know, even though she’s loud and proud, it’s not like I’m sick of her, you know. After seeing what I’ve seen, I’m going to let their names remain anonymous. But there are some characters that I’ve never got into for so many reasons -I would turn the show off.

T: I loved everything about what you brought to the screen in this character, because she was so relateable, you know, and in so many ways, visually, but also artistically. To whoever wrote this character, thank you. It’s amazing, because who better to have delivered Angie to the world?
There will be no replacement. Nobody could come in and fill this role, they will lose everything and everyone, honey. Because this is YOUR role!

S: Thank you so much. As we build characters, I’m like, okay, who can I pull from?
Who can I pull from? There were so many women onscreen and offscreen that screamed Angie to me. Jennifer Lewis is one of them.

T: Ha! (Laughing) I can see that. She could be Angie’s grandmother.

S: My grandmother & Ms. Lewis are the reasons why I felt like I could be on screen. You rarely see Black actresses being vivacious. You have to be demure and speak in a certain way. You have to act a certain way, but you can’t show too much personality, because you don’t wanna lose yourself.

Am I supposed to water down my human life in order to be able to be a mass?

Ms. Lewis is literally and truly like my grandmother. Actually, my grandma is Jennifer Lewis & Maya Angelou mixed. Whenever I had a show, I could be backstage, I knew she was in the audience.

She has a very New York-esque poetic demeanor.

T: Come on, grandma (snaps).

S: So everything she says is very deep and essential.

T: I love this. I love your grandma.

S: Everybody love Grandma! She is vivacious and full. Another actress I pull from is KeKe Palmer.

T: Every single person that you named, I can, I totally get it. Like, you nailed it. That is amazing. It’s genius in itself. Because a lot is put into taking a script and owning it. It extends beyond reading it. I love having this conversation with you. Especially as you’re talking about Angie, you kind of drift in and out of her character. It’s dope to hear.

S: And to think, it almost didn’t happen. And here we are in the midst of Harlem season 2.

T: Won’t he do it?!

Photo via Amazon Prime, HARLEM Cast

As a child, I slept on my mom’s couch. broke as a joke, and one of my friends, who is now a pastor, told me I needed to be specific in my prayers. I wrote down a few things that I wanted in a show:

– I wanted something New York based, to reconnect with my NY family.
– I wanted something with Black women, where I could see black women in power.

– I wanted something with prayer at the beginning and at the end. Honey, we pray at the beginning and end of the show.

There is no doubt that God answered this prayer in a big way, because these same black women are

teaching me about the industry, are holding my hand, helping me go into this music endeavor.

For this, I am so grateful to the Lord.

T: I love your story, but most importantly, I love how you manifested everything.

All of this has come full circle now. I can’t wait to just continue watching this journey that you were on, because the world hasn’t even seen everything yet.

Listen, if you’re in need of an older sister for Angie, let me know. I got you.

S: Yass, it was a pleasure speaking with you.

T: Such a pleasure. This was fun. Have an amazing day.

Enjoy the sounds of Shoniqua Shandai’s “Something About You”:

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