Inspired By — A Q&A With Actor-Writer-Producer Fanshen Cox DiGiovanni
Fanshen Cox DiGiovanni is creator and star of One Drop of Love, a solo show co-produced by Ben Affleck and Matt Damon. She’s a spokesperson on the arts and racial identity, a board member of Mixed Roots Stories, and an honoree at next week’s Media Done Responsibly Awards for her commitment to diversity in Hollywood.
Tell us about what you do.
I’m the writer, producer and performer of a one-woman show (One Drop of Love) exploring the intersections of race, class and gender and how these affect our most intimate relationships. I’m an educator and have taught (and learned from) students from all over the world. I’m also an advocate for equity and inclusion at all levels of media content production.
And you haven’t run off to do something else because…
I’m named after a book, Fanshen by William Hinton, about a small village in China that used this word as their motto. ‘Fan Shen’ symbolizes the creation of a society in which everyone contributes and benefits equitably. So you could say my parents gave me a sense of responsibility from birth, and I happily do what I can to live up to my name personally and professionally.
What live show had the most impact on you as a child?
I didn’t have access to a lot of professional live theater growing up, but I remember seeing Whoopi Goldberg’s one-woman show Whoopi Goldberg: Direct from Broadway (originally called The Spook Show) taped as an HBO special and I thought, “Who IS this beautiful Black woman, sharing stories of all these varieties of women!? THIS is what I want to do.” It remains one of the most powerful performances I’ve ever watched.
What accomplishment are you proudest of?
Making One Drop of Love has been so fulfulling. Before writing and performing the show, I had a hard time finding complex roles for Women of Color that I could feel good about. Now, every time I complete a performance, I feel so proud to have gifted myself the opportunity to portray a complex, self-actualized woman.
What personal project are you most excited about now?
We filmed a live recording of One Drop of Love last year and are now submitting it to festivals. I’m very proud that women make up 100% of our key crew positions on the film. We’ve already been selected for the Roxbury International Film Festival (the largest New England film festival dedicated to celebrating films by, for, and about people of color) and in the future I plan to distribute the film to schools and organizations that aren’t able to bring the live show.
They’re making a movie about your life and work: Who will play you?
I’d be honored to have Quvenzhané Wallis play me as a child — and, since much of my autobiography is already in One Drop of Love, I would cast myself for most of the rest!
Tell us about a live show that excited and inspired you.
I recently had the fortune of seeing Sarah Jones in a workshop production of Sell/Buy/Date. I’ve followed her work for a long time, but hadn’t had the opportunity to see her live. The show blew me away. The writing was superb. Her characters pulled me in and I didn’t want to see them go. She informed us of many sides of an important issue (sex workers) without us realizing for a second — until the very end — that we had been ‘schooled.’
What’s your next big goal?
I want to share what I’ve learned with other underrepresented storytellers. I want to contribute to real change in the entertainment industry — so that the representations we see in all forms of media reflect what the world actually looks like.
Have you ever taken anything directly from a live performance and used it in your work?
I studied Anna Deavere Smith’s work quite a bit while writing One Drop. I read that she would record interviews of the people in her plays, and then study the recordings intensively. I used this process to write and portray my family members in One Drop — and constantly strive to do it anywhere near as well as she does.
Tell us about a personal failure that taught you something valuable.
I had to learn a hard lesson about protecting my creative projects. Someone with whom I’d created a number of projects attempted to omit me as equal owner of the work, and take sole credit for all of it. I learned that: 1) It was better not to work with someone lacking in integrity and lose some of the credit than to try and maintain that relationship in order to keep the credit, 2) The lessons I gained and other relationships I made during the creative process were more valuable than the credit, 3) Most importantly: I learned how to protect my future work and to secure powerful counsel to aide me in this.
What’s your dream achievement?
To have contributed to seeing Black, Brown, Asian and Native people, differently abled people, LGBTQ communities, and girls and women — all the time — portrayed in the world as the full, complex and strong people I know them (us) to be.