One Drop of Love
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One Drop of Love

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The personal is very much the political, as actress-playwright Fanshen Cox DiGiovanni illustrated through her solo show “One Drop of Love: A Daughter’s Search for her Father’s Racial Approval.” The show was performed at the University of California, Santa Barbara’s Multicultural Center on May 7.

First formulated as a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) thesis project, “One Drop of Love” began as Cox DiGiovanni’s personal attempt to revive her estranged relationship with her Jamaica-born father, who failed to show up at her wedding years before.

What ensued was a powerful multimedia, one-woman play laced with wit, warmth, and depth that fused her fragmented experiences with racial and cultural dispossession into a coherent narrative. The multidimensional show traversed back into the years of Cox DiGiovanni’s family history to untangle the weight of the socio-political events that have inevitably contributed to a crucial part of her identity and self-perceptions today.

Part of the beauty of Cox DiGiovanni’s play was the way in which she refused to pigeonhole any particular attitude or phenomenon into a specific binary or category, which produced an arresting quality of ambivalence that refused to define or limit conversation.

An issue that she continually grappled with was the extent to which her personal and conversational experiences should be racially-charged. The simple act of marrying a dashing Italian man was one fraught with a multitude of unspeakable dilemmas, for she was inexplicably worried about what her Jamaican father might think of her marrying a European.

In a cuttingly satirical and memorable sequence, Cox DiGiovanni played out her “daymare” of her wedding ceremony in Jamaica, where she imagined herself walking down the aisle as Thomas Jefferson’s slave daughter with her husband in tow, pompously dressed in a British imperialist uniform. As a carefully put-together multimedia sequence at the end of the show revealed, however, her father’s reason for skipping her wedding was not the issue of post-colonial rage against the slave-owning Europeans, but rather his own ambivalence about returning back to Jamaica.

Cox DiGiovanni slipped in and out of multiple roles with dexterity, first imperiously bearing down at the audience as an anonymous U.S. Census Bureau officer, and then staggering affectionately across the stage with a lilting accent as her grandmother, revealing through her impressions the fluid and ultimately arbitrary nature of identity labels.

Her personal trajectory of “placelessness”—not seeing herself as “black” enough to join the Black Students Union, and yet having candy vendors in Cape Verde, West Africa, come up to her (while on a pilgrimage of sorts to trace back her African roots and understand her father’s pan-African attitudes) to ask her why she was so “white”—was interspersed with scenes that traced the evolution of the practice of racial categorization by the U.S. Census Bureau. The contrast brought to the forefront her sense of frustration from continually being racially defined by others, and the puzzling practice of placing someone in the category of “black” as long as they possessed even “one drop” of Negro blood—hence the play’s title.

At the post-show dialogue with UCSB’s professor of sociology G. Reginald Daniel, Cox DiGiovanni reiterated the importance of engaging in “scary conversations about race and racism,” reflecting that her work producing and performing “One Drop of Love” completely transformed the nature of her family relations after their involvement in her show.

Cox DiGiovanni will perform “One Drop of Love” again at California State University, Los Angeles on May 22, and at the Hollywood Fringe Festival in June.

- See more at: http://thebottomline.as.ucsb.edu/2013/05/one-drop-of-love-creates-ripple-effect-at-ucsb#sthash.zxq1NCbj.dpuf - UC Santa Barbara The Bottom Line


Is Fanshen a noun, a verb, or an adjective? Is it a who or a what? What does it have to do with the history of race and racism? Or, as Grandma Cynthia puts it, “De next time you talk to your mommy an’ your daddy, ahsk dem for me – what in God’s name is a Fanshen?…Why dem give you dat name?”

These are some of the central questions that Fanshen Cox DiGiovanni addresses in her brilliant and timely one-woman show, One Drop of Love: A Daughter’s Search for Her Father’s Racial Approval.

I am present for Fanshen’s debut performance on Saturday, March 9, 2013 at the Arena Theater on the campus of California State University, Los Angeles. The Arena is small, intimate, packed, and a few people have traveled across the country to see this debut. I sit in the front row with my good friend Rocco Robinson, and we notice right away that the audience is relaxed, friendly, and excited; the set is simple, arousing, and well thought out.

Fanshen is an educator, a writer, a film maker, and an accomplished actor who recently played a part in Argo, the Academy’s Best Picture for 2012. Fanshen is also well known within the nascent multiracial community for being the co-creator and co-host (with Heidi Durrow) of the award-winning podcast series, Mixed Chicks Chat (2007-2012) and of the Mixed Roots Film and Literary Festival (2008-2012). Both projects have been instrumental in making the public more aware of the so-called mixed experience, and of the growing number of critical and creative works about multiracial lives and issues.

Both collaborative projects have also been a means for Fanshen and Heidi to come to a deeper understanding of their own mixed experiences and identities, which, in turn, has facilitated the development of their own creative works. Heidi was the first Mixed Chick to gain national recognition for her bestselling novel, The Girl Who Fell from the Sky (2010). Now it is Fanshen’s turn to deconstruct longstanding racial assumptions, traditions, and allegiances with her own hybrid, experimental work.

One Drop of Love emphasizes the history of the construct of race from the 1700s to the present. More specifically, the interrelated American history of race and the decennial Census constitutes the factual and visual backdrop against which Fanshen performs her own personal history and evolution. Fanshen plays herself at different junctures in her life and, using multiple dialects and gestures, fifteen other characters (including her family) of different ages, genders, nationalities, and ethno-racial-cultural backgrounds. Though the subject matter is difficult, her acting ability helps her engage, entertain, touch, and enthrall her audience. Considered altogether, her multiple character depictions and interactions expose into view how the history of race–in conjunction with a shared belief in static racial categories, values, identities, and traditions–impacts intimate relationships, social opportunities, self-perception, and personal growth.

One Drop of Love is also a compelling story that conveys many universal themes such as love, forgiveness, doubt, determination, and the daughter-father bond. The main conflict of the story is Fanshen’s misperception of her father’s failure in 2005 to come to her wedding in Jamaica. This painful event prompts her to reassess her relationship with him and to investigate her entire family history. This event also motivates her to think critically about her own complex and debilitating experiences with race and racism, and about the implications and possibilities of becoming multiracial.

Why does Fanshen need to reveal her painful and complicated multiracial experiences? The first answer has to do with education. Fanshen is an educator who cares deeply about others, and through her show she wants to challenge her audience to think anew about the history of race and its lasting influence on society, families, and individuals. Moreover, Fanshen wants to counter the widespread notion that multiracials like her are representative of an emergent post-racial America. In actuality, her multiracial experiences and the ways in which others read her ambiguous body evidence the evolution and continued presence of race and racism in American culture.

The second answer has to do with Fanshen’s struggle to assert, define, and develop her own unique mixed persona. This particular aspect of One Drop of Love correlates with the work of Rebecca Walker, the author of Black, White, and Jewish (2001) and Baby Love (2007), and specifically with a statement that she makes in a Conversation from the Cullman Center with writer Danzy Senna. Walker states “that [she] had to write the books that [she] did…to claim [her] own subjectivity…[and] to create a self-defining beinghood…” that breaks from the expectations and “mythologies” of the Civil Rights Movement that were “projected” upon her by her parents and by society (21:30-25:55).

Like Walker and Senna, Fanshen is a Movement child - Blogger Gino Michael Pellegrini on Education, Race, Amalgamation, Class & Solidarity


Award-winning actress and playwright Fanshen Cox DiGiovanni performed her one-woman play, “One Drop of Love: A Daughter’s Search for Her Father’s Racial Approval” at the UCSB Multicultural Center Theater yesterday evening.

DiGiovanni, who has appeared in the Academy Award-winning film “Argo,” is the co-creator and co-host of award-winning weekly podcast Mixed Chicks Chat and a co-founder and co-producer of the Mixed Roots Film & Literary Festival.

Her solo performance, “One Drop of Love,” co-produced by Ben Affleck, Matt Damon and Chay Charter, begins with DiGiovanni counting the number of “whites” and “blacks” in the audience in a portrayal of a United States Census Bureau employee in 1790, then transitions into her present-day narrative meeting her husband and getting married in 2006, only to have her father decline attending her wedding.

In the beginning of “One Drop of Love,” DiGiovanni explains that her father’s refusal to walk her down the aisle was likely the result of disapproval toward her European spouse.

“My dad was born in 1936 in Jamaica when Jamaica was still a British colony. Now his mom — my beloved grandma Cynthia — worked as a live-in nanny and a maid for this British naval officer and pretty much left my dad to raise himself,” DiGiovanni said. “Not exactly the most comfortable introduction to Europeans.”

During the show, DiGiovanni takes on the personas of four different family members: her brother, her grandmother, her politically liberal white mother and her pro-Pan-African Movement black father, with whom she struggled to connect as a multiracial child.

“So my parents divorce when I’m seven and aside from a very few awkward moments with my white mother, I have very few memories of my dad ever speaking to a white person,” DiGiovanni said.

DiGiovanni alternates between scenes of racial categorization by the U.S. Census Bureau in the late 1700s and her personal narrative about growing up as a multiracial youth in cities across the United States and in West and East Africa. Using filmed images, photographs and animation, she explains the development of “race” in the U.S. and how it affected her identity and her relationship with her black, Jamaican father.

Over the course of the play, DiGiovanni explores her family history in order to reconstruct her racial identity and confront her father about his absence at her wedding. She said this process gave her insight into her heritage and ultimately allowed her to feel more comfortable with her personal identity.

“Today, especially having done this and reconnected with my dad, I feel stronger in my black identity as well as in my mixed identity,” DiGiovanni said. “I feel stronger, and I feel so much more relaxed about it. Unfortunately, it took a long time, and it might take you guys a long time, but just know that you will feel comfortable at some point. I think the sooner we can all get there, it will really help in terms of looking at racism.”

Third-year sociology major Ryan Yamamoto, who opened for DiGiovanni’s show with a spoken word piece, said DiGiovanni’s message about the fluidity of identity bears significance for all people regardless of ethnic background.

“Even not necessarily being black and white … there are parallels. Obviously not the same story because there are different levels of oppression, but there were parallels, and I felt it was really powerful,” Yamamoto said. “Who you are at one point in your life doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to be that person after. There is no right or wrong in choosing identities.”

Third-year sociology major Yasmeen Todd said DiGiovanni’s play aimed to do away with individual racial categorization and instead advocate for humankind as a “race-less” whole.

“I definitely liked the message she was trying to convey about loving everybody,” Todd said. “It doesn’t matter what race you are. You should be able to understand each other and have these conversations with people about your race and not be afraid to talk about it.”

DiGiovanni said she encourages audience members to celebrate their ancestry and actively seek to educate themselves about ethnic roots while still maintaining civility amidst dissenting opinions.

“One of the things I’ve learned when I was going through a period of strong black identity in college was that I was angry, and so my conversations with people were angry, and there’s nothing wrong with that,” DiGiovanni said. “But y’know, folks don’t really want to listen when you’re real angry. I am an educator so I’m always deciding, ‘Do I want to teach a lesson here or do I want to self-preserve?’”

DiGiovanni said she hopes that her show acts as a catalyst for people to foster an open dialogue with family members in order to gain a more thorough and comfortable understanding of ancestry, origin and identity.

“Identity — it’s fluid. I do think we get to empower ourselves more by choosing what we want on a daily basis,” DiGiova - UC Santa Barbara The Daily Nexus


Discography

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Bio

One Drop of Love is a multimedia one woman show written and performed by Fanshen Cox DiGiovanni. Incroporating film, photographs, and animation to examine how ‘race’ has been constructed in the United States, and how it can influence our most intimate relationships. The show will take you on a journey from the 1700s to the present spanning locations throughout the world as 16 characters facilitate a reconciliation between a daughter and her father.

Q&A segment with Fanshen to immediately follow performance.

"Fanshen Cox DiGiovanni is that wonderful combination of first-rate actress, playwright, activist, and storyteller. “One Drop of Love” is beautiful and brave. Cox DiGiovanni’s honesty, insight, dedication, and love are an inspiration. She takes us into the intimate places where family, race, love, and pain intertwine. In this sometimes searing, sometimes funny, and always smart play she shows us both the terrible things we do to those we love and a way forward to a better future.” - Paul Spickard (Professor of history at University of California, Santa Barbara)

"Amazing performance, staging, autobiography and artistry, and an amazing meditation on race and examination of America. I am in awe.” - Ben Affleck (2013 Academy Award for Best Picture: Argo)