Dominique Fishback knows how much power one voice can have, and acting is how she found hers. At drama school she was often the only Black person in her class, and describes her nerves when having to bat away ignorant views. “I stumbled over my words. I felt overwhelmed and I looked around and nobody could advocate with me, because they didn’t know, because they don’t come from where I come from.”
But Fishback went on to finish her degree by writing and performing a one-woman show chronicling the Black experience, where she played 22 separate characters spanning American history, and ended the run to standing ovations off-Broadway. It seems Fishback’s ability to find power through performance — not to mention her skill in switching, chameleon-like, between a huge range of roles — has been with her from the start. She’s since landed a role in the film adaptation of Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give, a heartbreaking story centred around a police shooting, and transformed into Darlene, a savvy, sweet-natured sex worker in 70s period drama The Deuce.
Next up she’s starring as Robin, a 16-year-old girl from humble beginnings in Netflix’s upcoming action movie Project Power — where she quickly gets caught up in the fight, alongside co-stars Jamie Foxx and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, to save a city that’s being destroyed by a pill that promises a different superpower to everyone who takes it. “It was a complete blessing to play her,” Fishback says of the experience, explaining that she has always wanted to take on a younger role in an action film, à la Dakota Fanning in Man on Fire or Natalie Portman in Léon: The Professional. “I’m a kid at heart.”
It seems all her roles, whether contemporary dramas, period pieces or big-budget action movies, come back to power in some form or another. “Robin’s words are her power,” she tells me, drawing a connection between herself and her character — who finds rap as an expressive outlet throughout the film, mirroring the actor’s own relationship to performance.
But just as quickly as she shapeshifts into the character of Robin, with that perfectly pitched adolescent contradiction of innocence and attitude, Fishback is onto the next. 2021 will see her feature alongside Daniel Kaluuya and Lakeith Stanfield in Judas and the Black Messiah, Shaka King’s upcoming film following the real-life petty criminal-turned-FBI informant William O’Neal, who tried to take down Fred Hampton’s Black Panther Party from the inside.
Fishback’s work, particularly her plays and her role in The Hate U Give, may hold a new sense of urgency for many in the wake of the latest wave of the Black Lives Matter movement. For her, however, it’s always felt that way. “I had an experience where I saw someone get shot before. Things don’t feel more urgent to me now — we’ve always been inundated with police brutality and oppression. It’s just that only now the world isn’t turning around from it anymore.”
“My cousin is a school teacher,” she adds. “The school has been reading The Hate U Give for the past couple of years and I go in to talk about it with them. It’s always been something that was with me.” She explains how art can restore the lack of humanity in news reports of police brutality, by telling the story from the victim’s point of view. “We don’t often get to see that in the news. We don’t see their faces, or if we do, it’s just a mug shot.”
Fishback also describes how she’s found it difficult to justify her form of activism through performance in the current climate, where film and theatre is on hold and protests continue. But ultimately, she knows that telling powerful stories is the best way she can contribute to the cause, which extends far beyond the current moment. “I can make art, and that can help people,” she affirms. “It’s a life-long thing. It’s not just a month; it’s not just a year; it’s not just a week. It’s every day for the rest of my life.”