The 2019 Urbanworld Film Festival marked the 23rd edition of this pre-eminent gathering of film, digital, and musical talents from a variety of cultures over a five day period. Founded by Stacy Spikes in 1997, Urbanworld has built a reputation as one of the largest internationally competitive festivals of this sort and boasts a full schedule of events over its near-week long duration. Founding partner HBO, along with BET, further strengthen the platform and attract a bevy of films and other creations spanning across every cultural divide. Moreover, Urbanworld addresses the ever-changing landscape of content creation, marketing, distribution, and financing in digital mediums and shines a bright spotlight on burgeoning musical acts with live performance as well as focusing on curated DJs and their contributions to the culture. There are no stories, characters, or themes Urbanworld has left unexplored over the course of its two decade plus long history. The 2019 edition of this festival proved to be its most auspicious yet and actress/dancer Deborah Lee Fong made her presence felt during the event.


The Live Screenplay Readings portion of Urbanworld’s events is one of the more bracing experiences featured in the festival’s schedule. The live nature of the performances and often cutting edge quality of the work provides audiences a glimpse of creativity expressed in one of its rawest forms. The reading of Secret Santa proved no exception to this and Deborah Lee Fong’s participation in the role of Agnes is certain to expand the visibility of this talented performer. Fong has established herself via a quarter century plus long career in national theater productions as both an actress and dancer. The bilingual Panamanian American performer has, likewise, landed important roles in PBS productions Footsteps and Footsteps 2 as well as in the film You and Your Decisions.

She exhibits great elasticity as an actress. One of Fong’s chief strengths is her ability to inhabit any character and the physicality she brings to her performances, undoubtedly honed by her dancing talents, engages her with each role at a level few other performers can hope to reach. This sort of talent is difficult to find when so many peers and contemporaries are content to specialize in hopes of finding steady work in a particular vein; Fong, however, approaches her endeavors from the point of view of a creative artist looking to expand her horizons and challenge herself with each new project. The role of Agnes in Secret Santa provides her with such an opportunity and a five star forum for recognizing her considerable talents.


Her theatrical experience, without question, fueled much of her performance as Agnes in Secret Santa and is likely a reason for her casting. It is no stretch to say theatrical performers operate under a different set of expectations than their counterparts in film and television; there are, obviously, no second or third takes in such a setting. This requires an actor or actress to manifest tremendous discipline; preparation is key, among other factors. Deborah Lee Fong’s contributions to the 23rd annual Urbanworld Film Festival further strengthen her standing as one of the more compelling performers working today.

Garth Thomas