To celebrate Women’s History and Appreciation month, I spoke with one of the most creative people I know about her accomplishments. I had the pleasure of dishing hot takes with [the] quirky and artistic Shakinah Starks, a Massachusetts native currently pursuing dreams of being a producer in LA. We spoke about her emergence in the industry, changing the black woman’s narrative, and self care #TreatYoSelf. Shakinah is currently working on her own web series, Black Girl in Training. She emphasizes the need for diverse stories as inspiration. Starks’ interest in producing peaked when she realized there was a lack of diversity in roles and story lines. In order to change the narrative, Ms. Starks is working on numerous projects in addition to her daily workload. Aside from working throughout LA, California and producing Black Girl in Training, she’s a creative producer of the web series Minutes by Mia. Changing the vision of the white movie industry; she is striving for more representation for women of color.
What is something that you hope to achieve while you’re in LA?
I’m trying to make accessible content; the content I want to make is for girls who aren’t the standard of beauty. I want to make content for girls who have a hard time assimilating into being black enough, I want to make content that reflects those kind of girls. I also want to make movies for regular-shmegular black people!
What would make your content different than the things we see on screen today?
We don’t need stories of us being raped, killed, murdered— nigga, we see that sh*t [on television] everyday. To the reflection of us in the media now, [it] revolves around violence and its almost trauma porn. I know that for myself and the people I’m around, we’re tired of seeing that—So I wanna make movies… Of black folks, doing regular-smhegular shit.
Trauma Porn (noun): horrendous images which creates shock value which to then experience a positive feeling that covers us as when looking away and getting back to our own reality.
So let’s get into the content. What are you currently working on?
I’m working on a web series called “Black Girl in Training”, which will be coming soon! It’s about this black girl who lives in Milwaukee and she was adopted by a white woman. She goes to an HBCU and she has a very hard time assimilating to black culture. Her friends that she’s made at the HBCU kind of her teach her almost what its like to be black and the culture.
I’d definitely love to see how that works out, you’re pretty dedicated to showing us that there is more than one type of black identity. I love it, what else are you working on?
I’ll be creative producer on my friend’s web series, “Minutes by Mia”, which would be one minute episodes featuring everyday millennial problems. An episode I directed is like Mia wakes up on a Sunday morning and notices her bank account is like negative twenty dollars and she’s like, “What? I just got paid Friday”. She’s like calling all of the vendors on her bank statement, and in between her calling these vendors you see [clips of] her at the bar [saying] “you’re so cute let m buy you a shot”, she’s calling t-mobile—
Why do i get the sense i’m being dragged right now?
–“i’m buying wings for everyone” and then she calls Fedex, “Did you charge me more than you were supposed to?” And it flashes to her saying “honestly bartender, tip yourself fifty bucks”. She then looks at the end of her bank statement its like ‘Hollywood Bar’: $300. Which is super relatable!
Nah, I’m not gonna front– I really felt that in my chest just now… That show sounds OD funny– please make sure to link us when you’re done! Next Question, What’s the best thing about being a black girl?
I’m a trendsetter– I feel like black women set trends! What was ghetto yesterday, is trendy tomorrow.
Do you consider black woman to be the blueprint?
I agree heavily, we make everything & what do we get in return? Do you notice a trend of people appropriating our culture first hand while working in the media?
I notice it all the time, specifically not even embracing the culture. I feel like embracing blackness and diversity is “cool” now; which is lowkey problematic! It’s like “Oh! Look at us, we have a black girl on our show. We’re diverse!” I think that people need to realize that putting three black people in a room or space does not make it diverse.
Also stop using black people as an inclusivity pawn. We’re not toys! I think that I see that a lot in the media, I hope that it’s all in my head and it’s not a fad. I say this because fads die out and I don’t want blackness within film and entertainment to be a “fad” to then get thrown to side again.
Do you think there is a thin line between appropriating or appreciating black culture?
Yeah, I think its super complex. I think that you can appreciate things and give credit when and where it’s due. I think people appropriate where they try to make it seem as if they discovered it.
So let’s backtrack into your own content. You would also like to star in your own content as well? Sort of what Mindy Kaling has done with “The Mindy Project” and what Issa Rae has done with “Insecure” right?
Yes! I want to create content and ideally be in the content. Like Shonda Rhimes, Issa Rae, Mindy Kaling, [and] America Ferrera— these are all black and brown women who are creating content and starring in content, bringing on other black and brown on that platform- which is super important.
What is the hardest thing about being a creative?
I think that people only want to help you when you’ve made it or when you need help to make it.
Can you elaborate on that? What are you saying?
Like when your stuff is everywhere, everyones like “lets collaborate, blah blah blah!” Until you get there you’re like “Hey, I need help”, people are like “[awkward silence] okay, what do you want from me?”. Also, being a creative takes money— being a creative is not for the broke. That sounds really messed up but a lot of these kids who are making movies, producing them of rip straight out of college, their parents are helping them financially or they already have money. They can give up time to not be working to pay their bills, versus like I don’t. Like for a few months, I have to put my goals on pause so I can work, stack up bread, pay off my bills, and so on. Who is able to go out and go for it with no money? When we talk about “you can do whatever you put your mind to”—
You need to have money.
With March being Women’s Month, is there anything you look forward to?
I look forward to seeing back and brown women be THAT GIRL! I think that not only is it women’s month but its women day everyday. Black women specifically are icons in general! Seeing them in the media and in the film industry making exponential changes, like Regina King, Angela Bassett, and more make gigantic strides! I’m pretty excited to see what’s happening in the film industry this month regarding women.
What would thirteen-year-old you think about you right now?
SIS! I think my thirteen year old self would be very proud. I was definitely hard on myself as a thirteen year old. The things I told myself when I was thirteen I couldn’t do, I’ve done and then some. Which I’m very proud of!
Something I’m pretty adamant about is selfcare. Aside from dealing with the weird human beings of this earth, everyone has their own unique way of staying sane, do you have any self-care tips that you abide by?
The best self-care I think i’ve ever done is stop entertaining people— In the sense of like friends. Reevaluate your friends! When you realize the kind of friendships you have you’ll know that you’re friends to other people, [but] they’re not friends to you. Get to “cleaning the house”! When I’m in rough spaces mentally, and I reach out to people who I feel I’m usually there for and they’re not there for me when I need them the most, its like really telling. I remove them, you don’t need them! Goodbye!
I hear that 100%! It’s pretty important for us to reflect on who’s really there for you and who just needs access to you. Is there anything else that keeps you leveled?
I like to run! I like music. I like [listening to] alternative R&B, psychedelic soul, [and] neo-soul— I like things that my brain has to consciously consume. I am absolutely a huge fan of Nick Hakim, who I’m playing a lot. I really like Anderson Paak, I’m a huge fan of the Malibu album and I’m a huge fan of Solange. Finally, I like to get mind drunk and rewatch Ugly Betty, I find it healing to watch myself on tv!
As we finished chatting about how we decompressed from the outside world, a huge piece of me knew that the strides she is making now, will make a big difference in the content force-fed by us today. Shakinah Starks, is on a big mission to change the narrative for us. She is working on numerous projects in addition to her daily workload. She proves daily that she’s about her word and about her business, a true go-getter; someone who genuinely inspires me! All of Starks’ current creative projects should help her achieve the vision she has for the future of women of color and I look foward to her continuing to make women’s history! May we wish Shakinah a huge God Bless from her home town here in Springfield, Mass!
This was written in collaboration with Jessika Lazala