Something about Shoniqua Shandai

Shoniqua Shandai
Photo by Jiccarra N. Hollman

Meet dark and lovely, curvy and vivacious Shoniqua Shandai, otherwise known as the woman behind the infamous Angie on Amazon Prime’s “Harlem.” Shandai’s role is a best friend to Meagan Good’s character Camille. The two share an unbreakable bond on camera and off.

Historically, dark, curvy women have been depicted on-screen as poor, oppressed, or beaten down. But the luxurious Angie is a correction of that stereotype.

The MSR caught up with Shandai when she visited Minnesota to speak at the Twin Cities Natural Hair and Beauty Expo last month. She shared her struggles with hair identity before choosing to love her natural crown just the way it grows from her scalp. She also dished on the inspiration behind her debut single “Something About You, which was released on Sept. 7. She described her sound as Toni Braxton meets Aaliyah.

MSR: Are you natural?

SS: I have been natural since before it was cool. After moving to California, my family experienced homelessness. My mother’s job claimed back payment and snatched all the money from her account. There was no money for weaves. I dyed my hair orangey blonde, you know. 

It wasn’t blonde. It was orange because I did it myself. We were broke. We were not going to the salon. I was doing it in the bathroom—this was before YouTube.

MSR: Have you felt compelled to change your look at any point during your career?

SS: Oh, absolutely, I mean, that was honestly before I came in. Thankfully, I had my moments prior to getting into the industry so that I didn’t have to deal with other people’s outward projections of me. 

I heard every “box” mentioned that I was to fit in. I think God put me through the trenches early so that I could be able to stand on my own two feet by 18 and say, actually no, I’m gonna wear my hair curly. 

I’m going to be curvy, and that’s OK. It’s still beautiful, it’s still sexy, and I’m still going to be the leading lady despite you saying my hair has to be bone straight.

MSR: How do you advocate for yourself and not sound like the “angry Black woman?” 

SS: I got really good at silencing myself or trying not to be the “angry Black woman.” Something I have been working on is advocating for myself. My name is Shoniqua, and I’m curvy, and I command attention. 

The moment I say anything, it’s like, “Why are you so sassy?” Actually, I’m not, I’m just stating the same thing she’s saying, but the [pitch] of my voice is a little deeper, so you are receiving it that way because you’re not used to women like me standing up for themselves. I honestly feel like the words “angry Black woman” are used as a tactic to silence us.

MSR: What are your thoughts on the Crown Act?

SS: I think it’s absolutely needed to protect women from being banned or blocked from opportunities for the way our hair grows from our scalp. Holding someone back from an opportunity due to hair is a way to control us, harness creativity, and break individuality. 

There is so much fear around an empowered Black person. It does not take away from our work ethic. 

The fact that we can be banned or penalized, or kicked out of school, made to miss prom due to the way our hair naturally grows out of our scalp, is insane. If we are not going to allow children to be themselves and to learn their history, how do we create change?

Courtesy of Shoniqua Shandai

MSR: How are you utilizing your platform to bring forth change? 

SS: I believe more so than the platform that I’m the platform, that my body is. My biggest desire in this industry is to use this Black body, this curvy dark skin, and 4C hair to put myself in as many situations on screen that we often do not see Black women in. I have a dream we could show up the way we want to. 

MSR: What are your go-to natural products? 

SS: Right now, I am loving “As I Am” because I can get an itch. My hair grows quickly and while growing, dandruff starts happening. I love that anti-itch, that good old peppermint (tea tree); it’s the blue one. I also love their double butter ’cause it makes the hair feel so soft. 

At home, I’m good with just the old school, as far as like a spritz with some olive oil and some water and a little bit of whatever conditioner is around. Shake that thing up in a water bottle and I just spritz myself. 

MSR: What is it like being a fan of actress Meagan Good and now working with her?

SS: It blows my mind. There are moments when it feels unreal. She reads, and it’s like water. It is effortless. Watching her in action is like butter. She’s been in this industry forever. Her credits are endless. 

Meagan Good directed my first music video out of love, kindness and support. I sent her my first song. I thought I would just get notes or something. She said, “Whatever you need, ‘Niq. If you want me to direct it for you I will.” She’s supportive and instrumental in pushing me to do this.

I studied her monologues in college, and now I am experiencing this incredible moment in music with her, to be able to have this incredible acting experience that has been so pivotal in my career with my hero. I feel like God is amazing. I’m living in prayer. 

MSR: What is the inspiration for your new song “Something About You?”

SS: It’s about getting the love you want and deserve. I think it’s so important to see dark skin on screen together and in love. It is full of color and high fashion. Meagan Good is directing.