In episode 144, Erik and Kerel talk with Crystal Shaniece Roman, Owner at The Black Latina Movement, a theater and film production company in New York City. Crystal grew up in New York City and was born to Jamaican and Puerto Rican parents. At a very young age she fell in love with acting and the arts in general and then continued on to become an actor. As she continued in her career, due to her being biracial and not fitting into the one race box everyone wanted to cast from, she wasn’t getting many roles. She decided to start making her own work and that was when The Black Latina Movement started. Other than being the Founder and CEO, she has now written, produced and directed.
Crystal shares the changes being created through The Black Latina Movement by traveling to different universities and opening up others’ perspectives about her and others’ cultures, the forward progress that’s being made in the movie industry through the power of people and community, and a very important lesson Crystal has learned about herself since running her own business.
“A lot of the time, especially with algorithms and Instagram, people will feel like they have to just jump into different things just to stay relevant. Like, "Oh, I'm doing this one thing and this isn't working for me. And I'm going to do this. And I'm going to do that." You have to stay firm in what your passion is because tides will change and fades go in and out, but if you falter and you don't stay firm and you don't stay disciplined, it's very easy to lose it.”
I want to welcome all of our listeners to another episode of Minority Report Podcast with Erik and Kerel. Each episode, we talk with leaders in business, tech, and media. And joining us today is Crystal Roman who is the owner at The Black Latino Movement. Let's jump in and get to know Crystal. Crystal, welcome. How are you?
Crystal Roman 00:26
Thank you! Thank you for having me. I'm well.
Great. Thanks for hanging out with us and can't wait to talk to you and learn about all the things going on with The Black Latina Movement and also a little bit about you, Crystal. So, let's start with you. Tell us about where you were born and raised and tell us about your family.
Crystal Roman 00:42
Born and raised in New York City, I'm a "New Yorkian". Jamaican and Puerto Rican descendant. Both my parents are New Yorkers as well, so we've been here for quite some time. I'm a mom of two Black Latino boys. My oldest just turned 18, so it's like, "Ah!" (laughs) but as we know, Black don't crack. So I'm trying to just maintain. (laughs) And my little one, he's 11. That's my journey so far, just being here in New York, a place that's considered diverse. But there is a lot of different things that you encounter here in a place that people are like, "Oh, it's New York, it's a melting pot. It's-" but it's not that simple. And so it's, it's been a journey. It's been a journey being in this duality.
Sometimes I've heard it described as it's several melting pots in one, right, and not just a melting pot, right? You know, being the daughter and having a family of Jamaican and Puerto Rican origins, well how was that for you growing up? What was that like having part Caribbean culture, part of American culture? What was that like?
Crystal Roman 01:48
It's funny because as long as you stay in your community, you really don't know there's a difference. So for me, I grew up in Harlem, and the Caribbean, the African culture, the diaspora, we're strong. It's a community, it's tight knit. So you have Dominicans, you have Puerto Ricans, you have so many different, you have Haitians, you have Colombians, you have from all over. But once you leave some of the pockets, you realize, oh, it's a little different. So I lived in Harlem until I was 10. And then we moved to Staten Island, which is another borough in New York City, and which is a predominantly white borough. And great borough, great place I grew up in, but it does have its issues, like the Eric Garner situation did happen in Staten Island. And it's a place where you definitely know, growing up for me in the 80s and the 90s, that you're a black person, because there's a predominance of white there. At the time, it was like 87% White. And so I learned that I was, I was no longer in the comfort of my community of my people because you go outside of like Harlem and the Caribbean lifestyle and the African diaspora lifestyle, and then you go someplace where there isn't that strong of presence and so you realize, like, "Oh, I'm different. Like, I'm not like certain people." It is a bit of a culture shock. I mean, it is nice to be outside of your community. And as we know, there's gifts and curses to both sides of staying in your community and also branching out and learning different cultures and things and textures to people. All right, Crystal, so I'm gonna try to get you in trouble with your family. Which side of the family's food is better? Jamaican or the Puerto Rican? (laughs) You know, so it's so funny, it's like, I feel like there's a thread that we all have. Like, we all eat rice. It's either rice and beans, or rice and peas or frijoles, or whatever you want to call it. That is like the staple. We all eat plantain. There's just certain things that no matter where you going, you're gonna get it because if you're part of our family, you know you're gonna get it. It's just maybe cooked or fried or stewed differently, but it's gonna be the same and it has that familiarity so, I can't say! (laughs)
(laughs) Yeah, grocery shopping wasn't that hard.
Crystal Roman 04:02
Oh, that's great. Crystal, I want to ask you about what's going on with the Black Latina movement today. So for those unfamiliar, tell us about The Black Latina Movement.
Crystal Roman 04:12
The Black Latina Movement is a theatre and film production company here in New York City. We've been around for 14 years. It really was just a labor of love, a snowball effect for me. I wear the hat now of, like, being the Founder and having this vision but I have to be modest because it just, it wasn't a vision that I just came out the gate wanting to do. It was almost something that I had to do. So, prior to creating the company, I had been acting for seven years and I just wasn't getting, seeing the roles that, you know, we see now. Like, now we see amazing shows like Insecure. We see How to Get Away with Murder. We saw these shows, but these shows that didn't exist - you're talking about 2005, 2004, 2006 - at that time when I was, like, heavily acting. And so I would go into auditions and I was too, you know, Latin for the Black roles and not black enough for the Latin roles, and there was just this weird energy in these casting places because most of these writers and directors, they don't look like us, so when they talk about diversity, that's really the issue. And if you don't know what we look like, or you don't know our story, you're gonna only cast this one look. And you know, as you know, we're not one way, we're not a monolith, we have so many different hues and sizes and colors. And so I just started to write and create my own stories. And it just literally snowballed. I met so many women and so many men who were like, "Oh, my God, this is my mom, this is my sister, these are my stories." You know, I became a service to my community, to my people. And I took a step back from acting and being active in acting, and I just went into being a producer and directing or writing. And thank God, like it's been able to continue even through the pandemic. We've been able to really thrive in this and have shows that are either about the Black Latina experience, if not about the Black Latina experience, just able to see us visually, where it could be a story that is about any woman, but you get to see women that look and feel like us.
That's great. I want to ask you a little bit too, because I think you touched on something that's interesting about being cast in roles and who gets parts. And there does seem to be a change. You mentioned some great shows that clearly have a different process now and therefore you get a different product, right? And so, question for you, what do you think, are some of the things that have inspired that change? Or, you know, what do you see differently happening now, so that those shows, like you mentioned, actually are different? What are some of those things?
Crystal Roman 06:41
I think just the people, right? Buying power and the fact that if there's a voice. So if you get enough people, it's almost like the capitalization of things, right? So when Issa Rae started out, her show was Awkward Black Girl, and it was on YouTube, and it was getting a lot of buzz. So the reality was if we start to pour into certain things that might have started out on smaller platforms, the higher ups are gonna see that. Whether or not they truly believe in us, that's a different story. But the reality is just based off of capitalism, and the way our country runs, and the way the industry runs, they'll say, "Hey, there's money in that. These people want to see these kinds of shows. Look at the numbers on YouTube." Numbers don't lie. And I think that's really where we then become the ones pushing this revolution, because we're saying, we want it to be televised, right? We want to see those that look like us. When we pour into podcasts, and we pour into YouTube, and Instagram and all these different things, our buying power is so strong, that we get noticed, because they start to see that. And then we do have a lot of allies, too. We have a lot of allies in men, we have a lot of allies in our white brothers and sisters, where they said, "Hey, I'm not doing this film, or I'm not doing the show if my black counterparts are not getting paid the same amount." We've seen that in a lot of the other actors and a lot of the stuff that they do. So we see that there's a difference, the shift is happening. And we're contributing to that shift, or we're directing that shift.
And Crystal, just thinking about that shift that you're talking about here. I know you said a minute ago that you guys made it through sort of like the pandemic and being in lockdown and are coming out of that and did okay during that period of time. But I'm thinking about like the last couple years, right, with all the racial issues in the US, the social issues, has that had an impact, positively or negatively on your business? And if so how?
Crystal Roman 08:36
I think it's positive, because I think people then want to see, a lot of the times people want to see what does this mean? Or like, what is the black voice? I know, when we performed, Penn State has different colleges, so they have one called [inaudible], and we performed there and there was a white student. And she said, "You know, I feel uncomfortable because there's so much social injustice." This was 2018. So maybe, unfortunately, somebody must have recently got killed. That's just the way it is. And she was speaking in reference to someone who had just died in that time. And she said, "I keep seeing these black kids dying. I keep seeing these black bodies going down. And what can I do to be a part of this? And now hearing this show and seeing that there's so much multiplicity of black people, what can I do?" So I think culture and arts are a great place, a speaking point, because it's a little hard when you see people at a forum and they're speaking about it, but if you have a show about it I think it makes people a little bit more comfortable, if they're reading everything- I mean, if they're watching it. And they're hearing it in a form that they can digest it better than a forum or speaking engagement. Everybody learns differently. So I feel like because I'm an artist, and I write and I produce, it makes it easier for some folks to say "Okay, I see that differently because the lens is shown to me differently." And I think we've had a lot more students, especially in the university circuits that have been more comfortable to say, "This show has helped me think differently. And I've seen these things, but I really don't know what black culture is, but I could appreciate it because you showed it to me in a way that I can understand it." Gotcha. Okay. And then I want to go back for a little bit here. How did you get into acting? Where did the love for acting come from? I was always an artist as a kid. My mom always put us in talent shows and all these different things. And then I just wanted to do something more. So you know, it became like a hobby to go to acting school and learn the different techniques. And then after a while, you know, you go to auditions, and you know, it's snowballs. And then it's like, "Oh, I can get a couple of dollars from this. And I can monetize my passion." And so it just grew into more, it grew into a business at that point.
You know, if you're thinking about now, Crystal, you've had experience as an actress, you're a writer now and producer and directing, like, what are some ways that you feel are different now when you talk to new folks coming into your craft? What are some lessons you feel like you've learned in ways that you sort of talk with them and pass on to them?
Crystal Roman 11:13
Just to stand your ground. Like, a lot of the times, especially with, like algorithms and Instagram, people will feel like they have to just jump into different things just to kind of stay relevant, like, "Oh, I'm doing this one thing and this isn't working for me. And I'm going to do this. And I'm going to do that." You have to stay firm in what your passion is because tides will change and fades go in and out and we see that. But if you falter and you don't stay firm and you don't stay disciplined, it's very easy to lose it. So there were a lot of times even when I started where we just weren't getting picked up for shows, or we weren't getting enough views on YouTube, or whatever it was and it was easy to say "I just want to give up on this." But, you know, business is cyclical. So we see that all the time. There'll be moments where things will kind of have your down moments, and then you'll pick back up. I noticed a lot of times now with millennials, they want that fast paced success. And it's like, if this is your passion, and this is your craft, you have to stick with it. The money will come later, but you just really have to stick with your focus.
I have to ask, growing up, were there elements of your life that made you want to pursue being on stage or being in front of the camera? Where did some of those early influences come that you think, may have played a part?
Crystal Roman 12:28
My mom and my dad, they were very much so into culture. They just love music, they love theater, they love culture. My mother was always watching, like, Ginger Rogers, and you know, women who were kind of like triple threats. And it's so funny, the other day, me and my mom were talking and I showed her, there was a clip of, I think it was this time 25 years ago, or 35 years ago, The Jacksons had The Victory Tour where Michael came out with them. And I'm like, "Ma, this is so cool, right?" And she's like, "Girl, I was there with your father! I went on the tour!" I was like "Where was I?!" She was like "You was with a babysitter somewhere!" (laughs). So my parents were really big on teaching us everything. Like, teaching us culture, teaching us theater. Even if there were films or showed that we weren't representative, they still let us see the beauty of theater and the ballet and opera and just kept us really eclectic so we were able to be well rounded. Since you've been running your own business, what's been, I guess, one of the things that you've learned about yourself in terms of running your own business? That I know what I want and I know what it looks like and I won't waver on that. So, you know, I've had times where I'm the only, not just the only woman in the room, sometimes I've been the only person of color in the room. And just learning to have thick skin because of that and not saying "Yeah, you know, maybe we should or..." just saying "No." I remember when I had a series called The Colors of Love and it was about four couples of color. And the constant feedback was, "You should make one of them biracial. One of the husbands should be white or one of our husbands should be Asian." And for a second I kind of like questioned myself and was like, "You know what," and then I thought, "They didn't do that in Sex and the City. They didn't do that in Friends. Why would I have to do that?" And I think that that, to me, has been what works for me. And that's been my thing. I've never said, "Oh, yeah, I'm gonna go with what the wave is or what everybody says I should do, what the consensus is." It's like I know I have a niche. And I know what my people want to see. So I'm not gonna waver from that and then do what's popular just because of what mainstream is saying to do.
Gotcha, gotcha. What's next for The Black Latina Movement?
Crystal Roman 14:47
We are looking to go back on tour, hopefully. We have some universities that are now, everybody's coming out of COVID, do now we'll be back up and running with our shows. So that's great because we haven't been able to be on tour in two years and normally we're always running on tour with the show. So just getting back on the ground, like we miss it. We've been to the University of Oregon, we've been to the Smithsonian Institute for Hispanic Heritage Month, we've been to Penn State. We've been to so many great colleges and universities, so we're really looking forward to it, so fingers crossed. We have some colleges that are tentative dates. And then we have our show Of Mothers and Men, which is about, it's nine monologues about women and their relationships with men or themselves as mothers or their mothers. And we're putting that up in New York in November at The Wild Project. It's a great show, we discuss so many topics, whether it's birth, marriage, pregnancy, abortion, molestation, love, breakups, everything you could think of; it's just a great piece where women get to just be present on stage and not have anybody question what we're going through. This is just a moment that you get to see a window into a woman's life. So we have that show. The show that we start with is called Black Latino, the Play, which is the inaugural piece of the company, which is what started it all. And it's just the story of being a Black Latina in America, whether it's Black Latina, you're half and half, one parent is African American, one parent is Latino. Over whether you're a Black Latino, because both of your parents could be from a Latin American country, but because of your phenotypes and your background, you're a part of the African diaspora. So it's a great show. There's dancing, music, singing, it's kind of musical style. So yeah, those two shows we have going on. We also have our digital pieces. We have The Black Latina Summit, which people can see. It's on Instagram, IGTV. And then we have a monthly program that we call Talks and Tequila where women just get together, and we just decompress and address. And we just have a good time together. We have drinks and mocktails and cocktails. And we just had one on the 30th. It was a sip and paint edition. So it was really nice. So we have another one coming up in July. So we're just booming again, like things are kinda like transitioning from digital space. We'll continue to have our digital pieces because not everyone is in New York and even when we tour not everyone is able to go to the state that we're in. So we still have our digital spaces. I think that was a great thing of COVID. It did give us a stronger digital presence so that people could tune into us more.
Great. I want to ask you a couple of questions, Crystal, about inspiration and where are you finding inspiration from these days? Like, what's inspiring you?
Crystal Roman 17:29
What's inspiring me... I think some of the ways that some of the millennials are moving is inspiring because they're just not taking no for an answer. Seeing that tenacity in them is a driving force because like, "Oh, wow, you guys are just figuring out all types of ways of making this work." And that, to me, is interesting, because I come from brick and mortar where it's like, you know, you have a website and, you know, that's it. You do your emails, and like they're really pushing the digital realm to get their pieces in there and their own shows out there. So that's inspiring to me. I think also, what's inspiring is just seeing how the women are moving now. Like, a lot of women in high places are moving. I just watched the Viola Davis interview with Oprah and it's just like hearing their stories and hearing how some of these women went through such, like, harsh backgrounds, and went through so many crazy things and yet they've still persevered. So to me that's super inspiring, because all of us go through times where it's like, "Should I do this? I don't know if this is for me. I don't know if I should continue this." And then you see people and you hear stories of people who've been through such worse things and you're like, "You know what? Let me just keep trucking." I think finding inspiration in the old and the new, I don't mean old like an old person, but older stories and newer stories and merging them together and saying, like "I can take a little bit from both." I find inspiration in that.
All right, Crystal, a couple of fun questions for you. I have to ask this one. Who's your favorite actor?
Crystal Roman 19:00
(laughs) My favorite actor... Ooh, I have so many. I mean, male actors, obviously Denzel Washington is phenomenal. I love me some Brad Pitt. He's amazing. Women - Viola Davis is a beast. Kerry Washington is amazing. Zoe Saldana. I think her career is changing so drastically and I'm loving - she spent a whole year in blue and green. (laughs) She spent a whole year in blue and green. She was either an avatar or she was in Guardians of the Galaxy. I just think that, yeah, like, what better [inaudible] like, how great is your job? Some of the stuff that women are doing, even men, some of the men are awesome. Michael B. Jordan. I just watched the movie that he was in that Denzel Washington directed. Amazing. I just think we have a lot of great people in the circle now. Not just people of color but just a lot of great people of color who are really killing it. Yeah, absolutely. All right, one more fun question that I love asking every guest that we have on the podcast, which is give us the top three apps that you use on your phone, outside of email and calendar and text messaging. The top three apps outside of a calendar, I was gonna say the calendar, then email and text messaging. Instagram, Zoom. I mean, Zoom became life. Instagram, Zoom, and one more. Oh my god and I can't use email. Well, WhatsApp. [inaudible] I'm an Android user, so people who are iPhones are like, "I can never know when you read my messenger" so I'm like, alright, so I guess we'll WhatsApp. (laughs)
Great, well, Crystal, what are some ways that our audience can stay in touch? And how can they find you?
Crystal Roman 20:59
On social media, you can find me on Instagram. So The Black Latina Movement, that's the Instagram name. And then me, it's Crystal Shaniece, which you can find through either or, they're both like interchangeable. You go to one you find me, you go to the other you'll find the other. The website Black Latina Movement spelled out all the way, the same way. You could find that about the shows, what we have coming up. And we could connect that way if you're in New York, or you can also see when we're going to be on tour so you could then pop into a show if you're in that city.
Super. Thanks so much, Crystal Shaniece Roman owner at The Black Latino movement. Thanks for hanging out with us and everyone thanks for listening to another episode. You can find more episodes where you find all of your audio and video. Just search Minority Report Podcast and look for the logo. Thanks again everyone.