Deborah Lee Fong’s can-do attitude and willingness to work hard would probably be enough to keep her working in theater and small-screen television and film projects even if the spark of something greater seemed dim. Anyone reading this article can turn on their television, visit YouTube or similar platforms, attend a local theater performance, whatever, and spot half a dozen or more individuals with mediocre skills who nevertheless persist because they are serviceable and show up. Showing up, both in art and life, isn’t enough for Deborah Lee Fong.
I’ve often heard it said and I’ve seen examples testifying to the idea that minorities embody the American Dream, whatever it really is, but than any white Anglo-Saxon Protestant can. Such a belief doesn’t pass the smell test with most people, it’s far too much of a blanket sweeping statement, but even a cursory look at Deborah Lee Fong’s career gives it some merit. As a woman, as a Panamanian American woman, she’s faced labels and distinctions other performers never experience.
Her response to those labels and distinctions doesn’t shirk from anything. It finds her doubling down on her ambitions, never surrendering to despair, and trusting the cream invariably rises to the top. This trust is paying off handsomely. A recent run of attention-grabbing performances in PBS programming such as Footsteps and Footsteps 2, an appearance at a recent Urban World Film Festival in their Live Screenplay Reading, and a role in You and Your Decisions set the stage for where we find her now.
Fong is coming off a stirring success appearing as Sara Ramirez’s non-binary character Che’s grandmother in And Just Like That. The HBO Max limited series is the latest chapter in the ongoing Sex and the City franchise reuniting series mainstays such as Cynthia Nixon, Kristin Davis, and Sarah Jessica Parker, among others, with an assortment of compelling new faces alongside Fong’s.
She flourishes in the role. Beyond the storytelling context, no matter its mood, there’s underlying joy apparent in the way Fong tackles her performances. You can sense that this is someone who loves to create onscreen or stage with her peers, she connects with the physical act of performing in ways many do not and finds something therapeutic as well as life-affirming in “playing pretend” for an appreciative audience.
We need more people like Deborah Lee Fong. We need them no matter their gender, sexual orientation, color, or creed. These are the people committed to using a work of art as a vehicle for expressing what it means to be human – not as just entertainment, not as just a way to make a buck, not just any one thing. It’s easy to see, as well, that her commitment to this will never waver. What’s next? Expect more of the same but bigger and better. There’s no doubt scoring such a plum role will advance Fong’s career in ways she could scarcely dream of before, but that’s nothing unless you take advantage of the moment. Deborah Lee Fong looks poised to do that in every way.