The actress puts her pen to work in the Civil Rights-era drama ‘Judas and the Black Messiah’
Writing her story
For Dominique Fishback, writing and acting have always been intertwined. As a high schooler, the Brooklyn native joined a youth theater company that required participants to write their own work.
For her thesis at Manhattan’s Pace University, she wrote a one-woman play, Subverted, which examines “the destruction of Black identity” and was produced off-Broadway.
That piece caught the attention of TV writer-producer David Simon, who cast Fishback in HBO’s Show Me a Hero and later in The Deuce.
Now, with a slate of compelling roles under her belt (including playing a young Jay-Z’s mom in a 2017 music video), she has developed the habit of keeping journals as her characters. Imagining their backstories, desires, and deepest fears. “It looks like work, but it’s so much fun to me because I’m a writer,” says Fishback, 30. “I’ve journaled since I was 12 years old.”
Fishback’s talent as a poet anchors a pivotal scene in her latest film, Judas and the Black Messiah (in theaters and on HBO Max now). She plays Deborah Johnson – now known as Akua Njeri. Johnson is an activist, writer, and fiancée of Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya), the Illinois Black Panther Party chairman who’s being watched by an FBI informant (LaKeith Stanfield).
As the Panthers begin to fear there’s a traitor in their midst, Johnson, pregnant and worried for the life of her partner and unborn son, reads a verse. Fishback wrote the verse herself after mentioning to director Shaka King that there was a lack of poetry in the film.
“We scream and shout and we live by this anthem/But is power to the people, really worth the ransom? ” Fishback recites over the phone.
“She’s not only giving her baby, she’s giving the man that she loves to the world,” the actress adds. “I had to think of what that would look like to me.”
A true multihyphenate, Fishback is now working on a novel “about a Black girl going to Greece and falling in love with a Syrian refugee.” As well as setting her spoken-word poetry to music and getting Subverted adapted into a TV special.
“I’m just following my spirit,” she says. In the meantime, she hopes that Judas helps audiences better understand how the legacies of Hampton and the Panthers continue to impact the fight for equality today.
“Chairman Fred knew the importance of everybody coming together and not being segregated by race and cultural experience 52 years ago,” she says of Hampton, who founded the Rainbow Coalition in 1969, not long before he was killed during a raid on his Chicago apartment by police and the FBI.
“In 2020, we got to see people put their lives and bodies on the line for a greater cause. We have to keep learning about other people’s experiences and keep standing up for what we believe in.”
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