I recently had the pleasure of interviewing the amazing Chantal Rochelle: on-air host, producer, and all-around digital content creator. In her current role as the Brand & Content Lead of BuzzFeed's Black culture and entertainment vertical Cocoa Butter, Rochelle ultimately aims to "push the culture forward" by producing content that reflects the true diversity of African diasporic people.
As a Shorty Awards finalist and a Forbes 30 Under 30 listee, Rochelle has been recognized many times over for her distinct voice and contributions to society. But our lively chat reached far beyond the scope of her material accomplishments and painted a genuine and holistic picture of who exactly Chantal Rochelle is outside of the spotlight. Lets jump right in!
Tell me a bit about yourself before your current success. What was your foundation, and at what point did you realize the entertainment world was for you?
First, thank you for having me, Jamilah. I really appreciate you and BUST for this opportunity. I am Chantal Rochelle. I am a vessel. I am a lover. I am a daughter. I am everything that my ancestors dreamed of and brought to fruition.
I'm from Texas. I grew up [where] everything in my orbit was music, entertainment, film. My father was a huge movie buff. My mom loves music, so there were always records in the house. In a Black household, also having JET Magazine and EBONY Magazine on the coffee table was what I was surrounded by.
There's nothing like nourishing the soul [with] entertainment. I've just always been enamored by storytelling and colors. That's why I fuse the two in my work now. Like with my show The Era, I want the colors to look great. I want it to be visually appealing, but I also want the story to be impactful.
My foundation was my amazing introduction to all of these wonderful things in entertainment, but also the foundation of God. I am a very spiritual person. None of this exists without God. Every morning I wake up and I'm thankful for this. I prayed for this when I was a kid.
I remember literally running home. I was front and center for my good sis Oprah, okay? She has a very unique way of making people feel comfortable and safe. I'm just so intentional about studying interviewers and journalists, and the way that they talk to people. That's where a lot of my inspiration comes from. It comes from the OG’s. By observing the Black women in my life, and the Black women I look up to. Like Shaun Robinson from Access Hollywood, Jacque Reid from BET, Ananda Lewis, Lala Vasquez. These people who I saw on my screen let me know that I could do it too, and that there was also a place for me. It was seeing black women out here who laid the groundwork for me.
How instrumental were you in the creation of Cocoa Butter, and why do you think affirming, Afro-centric platforms like yours are so important?
Cocoa Butter will be 6 this year. I came in to really help cultivate [BuzzFeed's] Black audience. As far as creating opportunities for video and content, it was a team of one; it was me. I had to basically crawl. I will say it has been a journey. This has taken hard work. This has taken years of pitching ideas, of fighting for things. I'm always the person who’s going to ask for forgiveness instead of permission. I care deeply about my community.
I became involved in Cocoa Butter to help launch what it looked like for us to create an actual vertical. What does it look like for us to really dedicate ourselves towards our Black audience? Launching Cocoa Butter was basically [a matter of], "How can I find a way to get people to trust us?”
[It] has been years of trial and error. Especially when you're under a white brand/media company, you have to garner a trust with your audience. It's taken years to get that, but I'm very confident that we're in a space right now, with our YouTube channel that launched a few months ago, where people feel [they] leave us better than they came. That's my number one rule: How are people leaving our content feeling fulfilled, and seen, and worthy?
Now, we have an amazing team. My role right now is to really activate ways for us to think outside of the box. I'm really appreciative of the journey that I've had, and it's not been easy by any means. But I will say what's helped me persevere: the people who ultimately find their success are the ones who don't give up.
When I speak about Cocoa Butter, I think about the years of growing up and watching TV and wanting to create a world and content that people feel safe in. Really making a point that there's no one way to be Black. It has been my life's work to make people feel safe and I am proud–beyond proud–of the work that I've done at Cocoa Butter.
On your talk show Cocoa Butter's 'The Era,' you get to host insightful conversations with industry legends. What is your process of preparing for a segment, and what is it like for you to be in a room with such inspirational people?
I set intention as soon as I wake up. So, I pray first and foremost, thanking the Universe-God-the ancestors for the opportunity to do this work. [There’s an] energy exchange when you're interviewing someone. I'm an empath, so I'm very cognizant and aware of what the energy is like. I'm always coming with the utmost respect.
I crafted all my questions, with the help of our amazing writers to really try to get questions that people are asking. The facade of the celebrity, I want to get past that. So I look at the ways that I can tap into the humanity of it. I'll read everything I can to make sure I'm properly prepared and I'm getting something out of them that hasn't really been tapped into.
So, like, with Debbie Allen, the question I like to ask is, “What do you want your legacy to be?” She said to me, “I want young girls like you to know that you can walk across my back." That is everything to me.
For me, preparation for interviews [is] making sure that I'm doing the best I can to honor who they are as humans and that, as a viewer, you're getting something out of it as well. It's a job that can be tricky at times because you also have to get beats; you have to get a sound bite. All that stuff is cool, but I also want to make sure that the person feels taken care of.
I'm so in awe to be able to do this work. To be able to talk to people like Loretta Devine or Eve or Angela Bassett. These are iconic people and the thing is, they are the most humble people you could ever meet. We're all equal in the sense of we all just want to feel safe, loved, taken care of, and validated. I feel like I try my best to do that when I'm in the room with them.
It's 2021 and we’re still enduring a global health crisis. How has your creativity shifted over the course of the pandemic, and how are you taking care of yourself while also managing the pressures of being a producer, speaker and overall content creator?
I was in deep grief at the beginning of quarantine. I retreated. I was less productive. I have worked harder in the past five years than I've ever worked in my life, and I was reaching a point of extreme burnout. I have tapped into taking care of myself so significantly this year.
I think I'm just in a place of surrender. If the past two years have taught me anything is that we are in control of nothing. “Let go and let God.” I've never understood that more until this past year. Self care to me looks like saying no; setting boundaries. This global crisis has taught me to be more passionate, considerate, patient, kind, forgiving. Creativity aside, I've just tapped more into my humanity. Work and those things are not my priority anymore. Being a good human, a better sister, daughter [and] aunt that has been my focus the past year.
My entire life I've [been] chasing the dream of a job. I don't dream of labor. So my idea of success has changed. Success to me is peace. It's serenity. Being able to pour into my family. My best friend's, my tribe that pour into me. That is what my self-care has been like this past year; really reprioritizing.
I think we put too much into our jobs. So many people have lost their lives this year and I'm appreciative to be employed. But, that's not my identity. I'm so much more and I think that so many times we tie our identities into our jobs and outside sources for validation. But this is the first time I validated myself without needing anyone else's approval.
The past year I have grown: loving myself deeper, giving myself grace, being patient with myself. It's a daily task, but I'm moving differently in the way that I speak to people, and the opportunities I take. Right now, I have peace in knowing I don't have to have the answers. As far as creativity: it comes, it goes, and I'm honoring that.
I really love your style, especially in an industry where we often hear the horror stories of other Black women about the general disregard many majority white productions have toward providing good quality stylists and makeup artists. How have you developed your sense of style as a full-figured Black woman, and how intentional are you about your self-presentation?
I'm very intentional about that. When it comes to representation, especially as a Black woman, people are going to perceive you by your presence and the way you look. That's just what it is. As a full-figured, round-faced Black woman, I didn't see [myself] on TV. Working on The Era, especially on set, I work with black designers who know how to dress full-figured women.
I grew up having a mother who was super into beauty. I would watch her spray her perfume in the morning when she was getting ready for work and just how she presented herself. I never saw my mother speak negatively about her body. And that's something that I'm taking with me into motherhood as well. The way that I never saw her in the mirror judging herself was instrumental.
Of course I have my insecurities. Especially on camera, I used to judge myself. I used to say, "Is my bosom too big? Do I look too wide on camera?" I don't care. You're going to get these arms, this double chin, these rolls. This is how I am. And I've tried so long for so many years to cover it up. My style depends on the day. But I think, especially as a full-figured woman, just make sure you feel comfortable. I think that was the foundation: making sure I felt comfortable in my skin.
I'm looking at myself in the mirror differently. I wasn't doing that before. Loving my body [and] building a relationship with it has influenced my style because it's allowed me to wear things I wouldn't have worn before. Wearing leather pants and giving the girls shoulder. I think for me, it's just taking risks, and experimenting, and working with amazing stylists and designers who know how to accentuate what I already have.
How do you hope to inspire others through your work, and is there any advice you may have for folks who aspire to make a name for themselves in media as you have?
I want people to know it's okay to show up as yourself. I've worked in different industries, and I felt like I had to show up as other versions of myself. Being a Black woman, especially in spaces where you're othered and one-of-one, I felt like to make other people comfortable I had to mask who I am. I encourage people, especially if you want to be in this industry, to show up as your full self.
I'm a goofy, silly person and a lot of times I'll hide that so I can fit in. But I wasn't made to fit in. If they don't receive you, keep it going. Remember who you are. Those are the people who really find success and longevity in this industry. Don't let anyone speak for you or tell you what your voice is. There's no one else who’s going to advocate for you better than you can advocate for yourself. And there's no one else who's going to fight for you like you fight for yourself.
I'm always looking at ways to grow, expand, and be better. Always be hungry to learn and to explore, and don't let anyone or anything put you in a box. Use what God has given you, because this life is so short. So while I'm here, I'm going to disrupt some things, shake the table, and make my presence known. Because I know what it's like to be rejected.But I move differently and say, "Okay, it just wasn't meant to be." Every opportunity that's meant for you will always find its way. Don't give up, keep going, and remember who the hell you are.
Beyond work and creativity, is there anything else in the works for you, Chantal? Are you manifesting anything? What's been on your mind lately?
I know next month is mental health awareness month. Especially now that I feel like a lot of people are experiencing extreme burnout, a lot of people are like, “What's next?” I think for me I'm manifesting and praying for there to be more mental health resources for people. I would love to tap into ways to work with mental health experts and organizations and resources because I feel like so many of our young people need it.
I'm manifesting peace; serenity. My manifestations looked completely materialistic like two or three years ago; that doesn't fulfill me. You can have all the money, and clothes, and all of that in the world. But if you don't have peace, family, love, kindness, and [aren’t] enjoying your life in your heart, none of that matters. I'm manifesting more beautiful connections and relationships. More amazing people like you to meet and talk to.
And when I mention the mental health aspect, that's something I'm passionate about. Mental health and advocating for Black women. Advocating for Black boys and Black men who are forgotten about. I am a highly sensitive person, and I feel like a lot of highly sensitive people are [dismissed as being] too sensitive. I take pride in that now. Therapy has changed my life. To be able to provide opportunities for people to have mental health resources and connections, I'm going to spend the rest of my life trying to find a way to make that happen.
This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.
All Images Courtesy of Chantal Rochelle's Instagram Feed
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Jamilah Horton is a graduate of Wellesley College with a B.A. in Cinema & Media Studies and Africana Studies. She lives in Harlem, NYC and enjoys watching and critiquing the latest films and television shows, especially those that center Black women and femmes. Subscribe to her YouTube channel That's A Wrap TV for more!