Women in Color: Angel Lenise, Video Producer
Close your eyes and picture your definition of a classic Southern girl. Ok, now, open them and let Angel Lenise shatter what you thought you knew.
The Dallas-bred talent is as Southern as church hats on a warm Sunday afternoon, but she also embraces the fast-paced experience of living in New York. Angel has worked in editorial since she graduated from Columbia University with a masters, and specifically has an interest in beauty and fashion.
Having worked with iconic brands like DKNY and Carolina Herrera, its no wonder she knows how to strike a pose. But more intriguing about Angel is her infectious humor and genuine spirit.
Learn more about her below.
Town/City You Claim: Currently: New York City. Home: Dallas.
Occupation: Video Producer, Harper's BAZAAR and ELLE
Favorite Quote: This is ever-changing. At the moment, it comes via an episode of "Another Round" with Heben and Tracy featuring journalist Stacy-Marie Ishmael, who said: "I have never believed in resolutions. I believe in doing things."
1. How did your environment growing up in Dallas, shape what you wanted to do professionally?
I've always been fascinated with fantasy, storytelling, and the arts. I think a big part of that came from being an only child — to this day I suffer from shiny ball syndrome, and am constantly chasing some sort of vibrant visual or epic tale to wrap my mind around.
Dallas, itself, is an amazing hub for art — there's the Dallas Museum of Art, the Dallas Opera, Texas Ballet Theater, Deep Ellum. It's not all big hair, pageant girls, and "hey y'alls." It was in Dallas that I studied piano for eight years, danced for four, and delved into theater the year before I left home for college. Over the years, I've let those things go — things I've decided I will do again — but there was one thing that has remained: My love of fantasy. My love of escape. My love of something that can stir the soul. Because of that, I've pursued a career in visual storytelling, specifically in video. My work is still evolving, but home definitely had a role to play in the path I'm following now.
2. What was the most fulfilling thing about attending an HBCU?
I've said it before, and I will say it again. Some of the best years of my life, thus far, were spent on the campus of Clark Atlanta University. The vibrance of black life and black culture — not only at an HBCU, but in a black city — was, and is, palpable. Attending an HBCU isn't just about academia. It's also about heritage, pride, legacy. It's about being immersed in the black experience, and gaining a greater understanding of what it has meant, and what it now means, to be black.
There is beauty in realizing that blackness cannot be defined as a singular thing. There is beauty in honoring the diversity within our own community. There is power in valuing, embracing, and promoting blackness in a safe space. Sure, PWIs are great; but I never had the same feeling walking the campus of Columbia that I did strolling down the promenade of Clark Atlanta. And, for the record, nothing bests a CAU swag surf circa 2009.
3. As a fan of Beyoncé, can you speak to her branding and what you think makes her unique?
Round of applause to Elissa Strauss; she recently wrote an article for Slate.com about Bey's pregnancy, and summed up my sentiments in the most succinct way: "There are few celebrities more adept at controlling their image than Beyoncé. She tells us only what she wants to tell us through the elusive mediums of music and photography."
Now, let me stan. As much as I love her music, visuals, performances, vocals, wigs, makeup, red carpet slays, nods to blackness (yes NOLA, yes Third Ward, yes tribute to Shawty Lo, yes Mothers of the Movement, yes everything LEMONADE), I love Beyoncé the boss. There are so many celebrities whose livelihood is directly linked to how often they post a picture, or how much they share. Acclaim for Beyoncé and her work is because she does just that: she works. She maintains her celebrity on her own terms. She creative directs, she directs, she writes, she performs, she produces, she runs her show. And she maintains a level of privacy and mystery that keeps me wanting more.
You know she does this because she loves this shit. Beyoncé doesn't have to work that hard, but she chooses to. She is audacious enough to best herself. I always wonder, "How is Bey going to top this?" And every, single time, she does.
(Disclaimer: I'm glad you asked me this question via email, because in person I wouldn't have been able to contain myself. Yes, you can include this in the post.)
4. In talking about "well-rounded" entertainment content, do you think celebrities should be held more accountable for their actions? What qualifies a celebrity to be a role model?
You often hear celebrities say, they didn't sign up to be a role model. News flash: When you have millions of followers and invested fans who are enchanted by your every move, you are of influence. As someone of influence, people are going to want to model their looks, actions, and lives after you. Accept it. Be humbled by it. And be aware of how powerful your platform is.
I will say that the immediacy of social media has forced celebrities take more accountability for what they put out into the world. People will find an old tweet or pull up an old quote in a moment's time. And fans will demand that celebrities answer for it.
I'm not a celebrity, so I can't relate to the pressures they face. I believe that celebrities deserve some sort of privacy (take notes from Beyoncé). I know they sometimes get frustrated with the weight of their own stardom. But they should not reject responsibility for the content they put out.
5. As you settle into your mid-20s, what are three things you know for sure about yourself?
I can appreciate being still. I will ask for what I want until I get it. I have an unhealthy obsession with to-do lists and have to consciously push myself to take risks.
6. How has NYC shaped your life plans? Do you feel like you've had to sacrifice anything by living in the concrete jungle?
If some of the best years of my life were spent at Clark Atlanta, some of the most-trying were spent right here in New York City. To be honest, I am tired of New York. The past seven years of my life have been all about NYC: how I'm going to survive grad school, the MTA, snow, too-damn high rent, trash on the street, convincing my now-fiancé to move here, maintaining friendships here, building new ones here. The busyness of it all, the harshness of it all. I have sacrificed all my coins, a whole heap of sanity, and neglected self-care to make it here.
But, seven years later, I am still a resident of this messy, noisy, claustrophobic space. New York City is, home... at least for now. I've never been ambitious as I am now, and it's because of the (good) pressure New York has put on me.
7. When did you first realize you were Black?
One of my required readings at Clark Atlanta University was "The Souls of Black Folk" by W.E.B. DuBois. In it, he writes, "It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one's self through the eyes of others..."
As a child, I was surrounded by my black family, I got my hair done at a black salon, I spent Sundays at a black church, I played with black children — but it wasn't because they were "black." That was my family, my salon, my church, and those were my friends. I never felt different or "other" because I saw myself in the people around me. It wasn't until I started school that I understood I was black and that people would try to define me because of it.
In first grade, my classmates called me "Moesha," not because I looked like Brandy, but because I was the only black girl in class. That same year, my dad got arrested in the driveway of our home, for a traffic violation by white police. Now that I'm older, I'm grateful that it was just an arrest. I once ignored a New Yorker's advances and he called me a "nigger". I spoke on a panel about natural hair and another black woman told me I didn't have a voice on the matter because I straighten my hair and wear weave. At work, I have to combat things that are culturally insensitive and just plain ignorant. I have to push for more inclusion in an industry that is quicker to appropriate than it is to rightfully credit.
The older I get though, I don't care what my blackness looks like though the eye of others. I know what it means to me. It is BLACK. It is confident. It is proud. And folks need to get used to it. Word to Ali.