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Shoniqua Shandai

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Harlem star and recording artist Shoniqua Shandai has been everywhere, from the TV screen to the runway, creating space at the table for fellow artists who look like her. This past Fall/Winter New York Fashion Week season, she was spotted strutting two looks in the BruceGlen show, and it was a refreshing sight in stark contrast with the lack of body diversity this past season. The actress came with her vibrant essence and spirited smile, giving visibility and representation to curvy women. But she’s not stopping there and plans to create space for more women on the runway, red carpet, and on the screen. In companion with her character, Angie, Shandai is pushing a new narrative for curvy women to be seen as not just the supporting role but as the main character.

In an intimate interview with Hello Beautiful, we caught up with Shoniqua Shandai on what representation through fashion, beauty, and media means to her. The stories behind Angie’s iconic season two looks on Harlem and how playing the character pushed her to step into the studio to create Something About You.

HelloBeautiful: Firstly, congratulations on all your recent successes regarding releasing the second season for Harlem and walking for BruceGlen at NYFW. What have all these experiences been like for you?

Shoniqua Shandai: It was truly an honor. I had been dreaming of that moment my whole life. I’m a huge fan of BruceGlen’s style and aesthetic, but also their heart. It’s an honor to get the chance to have these moments, but it’s even more powerful when you get to share them with those you love and respect. It felt like an episode out of Top Model, with all the models, hairstylists, and makeup artists running around before the show. And to be at the heart of Fashion Week at Spring Studio was so impactful. Not only will God do the thing, but he’ll do it with abundance.

Being part of this show at the curviest time in my life was a true testament. Having this opportunity to model, not in a way that meets someone else’s standards, but showing up authentically as myself, has been a dream come true. I want to do more of that. She has more walks to give. I want to use this body to create space for other curvy women to enter. I’m very grateful.

HB: Your character Angie shows curvy women in a beautiful light that is not usually presented in the media when it comes to fashion and beauty. What has it been like changing the narrative on the show that curvy women can be trendsetters?

SS: It’s been incredibly exciting. I’m so grateful to have this show. Collaborating with people like Deirdra Govan [the costume designer for Harlem] and being on the same page on who we wanted Angie to be has allowed me to connect with the character. How a character dresses is often overlooked when understanding the character, but everyone has a uniform. Deirdra and I created a fashion guide for Angie, and immediately we both knew who we wanted her to be. She’s a trendsetter in her music, her art, and the way she dresses. And to take it a step further, Angie is a person who moves the culture forward.

HB: Angie has a very unique style on the show, from clothes to makeup. Can you relate to Angie’s confidence in her style, and what does that look like for you off the set?

SS: I’m more of a wallflower. The way I show up in the world can be aesthetically like Angie, which is vibrant and fashion-forward. But how I communicate, I can be a bit shy and nervous. I feel like if I show up in vibrant statement pieces, then people will want to come and speak with me instead of me having to initiate the conversation. I use my style and how I show up as the conversation starter.

I’m starting to embrace the balance of both worlds by bringing a little Angie home with me. I may not be as vocally bold as Angie, but bringing some of that sunshine into my life. Even on my most boring days, they still feel vibrant. And just showing up for myself because I deserve that. That’s what I love so much about Angie. Her most mundane days are as vibrant as her days on stage. She’s the life of the party. She represents fun and joy and brings those themes into her style every day. Even if I’m just going to the grocery store, I’m bringing a little Angie with me—main character behavior.

Shoniqua Shandai harlem

Source: Emily Assiran / Getty

HB: The second season of Harlem is Angie’s redemption season! What are your favorite hair and beauty looks that reinforce that she’s making a comeback?

SS: We see a more mature and grounded side of Angie. She feels a little lost at the top of the season and is acting out. So from that, you get the twin outfit. It’s bright and covered in rhinestones because it reflects her feelings. When she wins the lottery ticket and feels like she got a little bit of money, she pulls out her blazer. She’s always dressing the role. I’m just grateful for the team and how we all showed this journey of her maturing. There are a few Easter eggs throughout the season regarding Angie’s evolution and how that’s reflected in her clothes.

HB: Can we get into the fro?! Both you and Angie come donned in iconic natural and protective styles. How has your relationship with your hair shaped who you are, and how does that translate on set?

SS: I have been wearing a fro for a while now. It feels perfect to have a hairstyle that takes up space for a character that takes up space. The hair team this season did not come to play. The way they manipulate natural hair and style the wigs is another component of moving Angie’s story forward.

I have always worn my natural hair. When I started in the industry at 17, I remember people telling me my hair wasn’t dressed up enough. And to be chosen in this industry, you had to assimilate to these standards. And that’s why I love this role so much. We see Angie find success and confidence while wearing her natural hair. I want black women to show up as themselves. It can get you that next opportunity because so many people are already pretending to be someone else. The commitment to self and authenticity ultimately creates the space for you. And I’m grateful to show kinky hair and afros in all its beauty despite it not being seen that way.

HB: I know music is important to both you and Angie. Can you speak about the impact music has had on you?

SS: Music has always been a profound love of mine. And throughout my acting career, music has always been intertwined. I wouldn’t have put out Something About You had Harlem not come first. Diving into Angie’s character is what made me go to the studio. Angie’s a recording artist who came out of school with a record deal, and I wanted to experience that. During season one, the pandemic hit, and there was a pause. I started going to the studio and diving deeper into what it’s like to be a singer.

From there, I started writing my own songs. And in learning more about Angie, I started to learn more about myself. And I fell in love with it. I recorded Something About You, and then all this other music started pouring out of me. Now, I can do both. It’s a confidence booster. With acting, you can hide behind a character. You can’t do that with music. It allows me to be bold and vulnerable. It’s allowed me to become a better artist.

HB: You look stunning in the visuals for Something About You. Can you talk about how fashion and beauty cross-intersect with further telling your music’s story?

SS: My ethos is to create space for curvy dark skinned women. Those who look like me but don’t see themselves in Hollywood can see themselves in what I do. In the Something About You music video, we wanted to show a different leading lady. We wanted to show curvy women on the red carpet dressed in designer and black designers at that. In the video, we wanted beauty, romance, and softness between the couple. Isaac Keys is the leading man, and he’s beautiful, but we don’t usually get to see that type of man be soft. So it was amazing getting to see him be gentle and chivalrous. It opens the door for more of those images in music.

The images alone bring me so much happiness; hopefully, someone sees it and becomes inspired to create that film. And it doesn’t have to be me, but for curvy bodies. And to show them being soft, romanticized, and loved on. Not just as supporting characters used for comical relief but as people. The visuals for Something About You is my own short little love story. And I hope every visual I drop. Even when I’m on the red carpet, I want that to be a form of representation for those who look like me. I hope to continue creating space for curvy women whenever my image is present.

‘Harlem’ Actress Shoniqua Shandai: ‘My Ethos Is To Create Space For Curvy, Dark-Skinned Women’  was originally published on hellobeautiful.com