Angela Shelton: A Comedienne’s History with Race

September 17, 2016

left: Angela Shelton and Frances Callier

LOS ANGELES – “I identify as black,” says Los Angeles based writer, actor and comedian Angela Virginia Shelton. “I don’t mind being called African American because I think that’s polite and appropriate, but my personal position on it is that I’m not an immigrant. I say black and I always have because I’m an American.”

Named after the activist and scholar Angela Davis, Shelton, 45, has a healthy list of film and television credits, many of them with her partner-in-comedy Frances Callier. The duo performs as Frangela, a mash-up of Frances and Angela. Longtime friends, the women use a mixture of improvisation and written content on race, gender and pop culture to entertain audiences around the country.

Born in Boston to black parents, Shelton moved to Detroit, Michigan, with her mother when she was 3-years-old, just after her parents divorced. Before long, they settled in Rosedale Park, an integrated middleclass community populated by cops, teachers, lawyers and other professionals that worked in the city. Shelton attended, in her own words, “hippie-dippy private schools with 40 kids, K through 8,” where students called teachers by their first names and only studied subjects that interested them.

Her mother worked as a lawyer for the Ford Motor Company. While there, she met a colleague who later became her husband.

When she lands on the memory of her mother’s second marriage, Shelton, who’s quick to smile and joke, pauses. “Actually,” she says and shifts her gaze to the coffee shop’s tiled ceiling, “I probably should’ve started with this. When my mom married Doug, the white stepdad, he had been married before. So he had two kids from that marriage.”

It was during the heat of summer that Shelton, 8-years-old, felt, for the first time, a divide between being black or white. Along with her mother and stepfather, she’d get in the family’s Ford sedan and make the drive to pick up her younger stepsiblings, Dougie and Michelle, for their weekend visits. “But every weekend,” says Shelton, “we had to bring a police officer with us because their mother would throw a screaming, crazy fit, refusing to let them leave…standing on the lawn with her new husband holding her back, screaming racial slurs at us. Every weekend this went on and then they’d get in the car and we’d go home and it was awful.”

From that summer, a jumble of chaotic weekends 37 years ago, Shelton remembers thinking that even though Dougie and Michelle’s mother was red-faced and screaming, she still looked beautiful, like Crystal Gayle. Shelton also recalls wishing, from the backseat of the sedan, that she didn’t have to be there or that she was so small, no one would notice her.

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