Rebecca Hall Talks Complicated Notions Of Bi-Racial Identity In Directorial Debut ‘Passing,’ ‘Tales From The Loop’ & More [Deep Focus Podcast]

Posted in Articles, Arts, Audio, Interviews, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2020-06-15 01:47Z by Steven

Rebecca Hall Talks Complicated Notions Of Bi-Racial Identity In Directorial Debut ‘Passing,’ ‘Tales From The Loop’ & More [Deep Focus Podcast]

The Playlist
2020-06-10

Rodrigo Perez

Actor Rebecca Hall comes from a unique and interesting pedigree and lineage. There’s the surface element of that pedigree which could be seen as aristocratic privilege in the world of the arts. She is the daughter of the famous theatre director Sir Peter Hall (who passed away in 2017) and her mother is the legendary opera singer and stage actress Maria Ewing. Hall attended Cambridge University’s constitute school, St Catharine’s College, studied English, and eventually found her way back to acting after some time briefly spent as an actor during childhood.

Known for an eclectic career that took off after an early breakthrough performance in Christopher Nolan’s “The Prestige,” Hall’s also appeared in such movies as “Vicky Cristina Barcelona,” “Frost/Nixon,” Nicole Holofcener’s “Please Give,” Ben Affleck’s “The Town,” Joel Edgerton’s “The Gift,” and Antonio Campos’ striking indie “Christine” which brought her much extra acclaim to an already celebrated career.

But her personal identity, or at least the one of her parents, is much different. Hall’s mother is from Detroit, Michigan—perhaps an unlikely place as any to birth an opera singer—and bi-racial with African American and Dutch ancestry. Her grandfather was also bi-racial and to hear Hall tell it, both of them had a very complicated and complex struggle with their identity and how they appeared to others in the world.

This struggle, this question of identity and who you pass as in the world is something Hall tries to reckon with in “Passing,” her upcoming directorial debut which probably couldn’t be more timely. An adaption written by Hall as well, and something she’d been hoping to make for years, “Passing” is based on Nella Larsen’s 1920s Harlem Renaissance novel of the same name that explores the practice of racial passing, a term used for a person classified as a member of one racial group who seeks to be accepted by a different racial group. The film stars Tessa Thompson and Oscar nominee Ruth Negga as two reunited high school friends, whose renewed acquaintance ignites a mutual obsession that threatens both of their carefully constructed realities.

In this latest episode of our Deep Focus Podcast, Hall discussed “Passing” at length, including the ideas of permission and permits needed to try and tell these kinds of stories and the charges of cultural appropriation that can be lobbied at one when making them. But her original statement of intent is perhaps most succinct and eloquent when she said: “I came across [Passing] at a time when I was trying to reckon creatively with some of my personal family history, and the mystery surrounding my bi-racial grandfather on my American mother’s side. In part, making this film is an exploration of that history, to which I’ve never really had access.”

At the time, she described “Passing” as an astonishing book “about two women struggling not just with what it meant to be Black in America in 1929, but with gender conventions, the performance of femininity, the institution of marriage, the responsibilities of motherhood, and the ways in which all of those forces intersect.”…

Read the entire article and listen to the podcast (01:04:15) here.

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Escaping Blackness

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Europe, Media Archive, Passing, Philosophy, United States on 2020-03-07 02:03Z by Steven

Escaping Blackness

New York Review of Books
2020-03-26

Darryl Pinckney


Thomas Chatterton Williams, New York City, 2019
Dominique Nabokov

Self-Portrait in Black and White: Unlearning Race
by Thomas Chatterton Williams
Norton, 174 pp., $25.95

The black individual passing for white in nineteenth- and twentieth-century American fiction by white writers is usually a woman, and usually when the truth emerges, the purity of the white race is saved. However, in An Imperative Duty (1891) by William Dean Howells, a Boston girl is ashamed to find out that legally she is colored, but her white suitor marries her anyway and takes her off to a life in Italy. In the beginning of Charles Chesnutt’s The House Behind the Cedars (1900), a “high-bred” black man in North Carolina returns to his hometown to ask his sister to take his dead white wife’s place and bring up his son. A young aristocrat she meets in her new white life proposes marriage, but soon learns the truth of her origins. Literary convention, in the form of a fever, kills her. The white suitor realizes too late that love conquers all. He promises to keep the brother’s secret.

The secret was as radical as Chesnutt could get. From a North Carolina family of “free issue” blacks—meaning emancipated since colonial times—Chesnutt had blond hair and blue eyes. He wouldn’t pass for white, because if he became famous then he chanced someone appearing from his past. He preferred to pursue reputation as a black man. Chesnutt had cousins who crossed the color line and he never told on them, viewing passing as an act of “self-preservation,” a private solution to the race problem. The big escape from being black was an American tradition. Three of Sally Hemings’s six children ended up living as white people.

The nameless narrator of James Weldon Johnson’s novel The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man (1912), a widower and a father, says little about his life as a white man. He is interested instead in his past as a black person, his life with different classes of black people, his wanderings around Europe as a young musician. When he returned to the United States and went on a folk song–collecting tour of the South, he witnessed a lynching—a black man being burned alive. Terrified, he got himself across the color line. He didn’t want to belong to a racial group so utterly without power…

Thomas Chatterton Williams, who belongs to the hip-hop generation of multiculturalism and diversity, is willing to risk being a throwback in his memoir/essay Self-Portrait in Black and White: Unlearning Race. To speculate on the racial future, he goes back to the days when the black individual who could do so took the side exit from segregated life to personal freedom. He deals with passing for white, class privilege, and his hopes for the possibilities of race transcendence, knowing perfectly well that because he is light-skinned he can contemplate racial identity as being provisional, voluntary, situational, and fluid…

Read the entire review here.

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“Self-Portrait in Black and White” doesn’t meaningfully engage with centuries of work from black-identifying scholars who wrote accessibly about their backgrounds, especially those with mixed-race ancestry.

Posted in Excerpts/Quotes on 2019-10-27 17:15Z by Steven

Nor is he [Thomas Chatterton Williams] the first thinker to ponder how multiracial people navigate a world so obsessed with the minutiae of race. Self-Portrait in Black and White doesn’t meaningfully engage with centuries of work from black-identifying scholars who wrote accessibly about their backgrounds, especially those with mixed-race ancestry. Nella Larsen’s novel, Passing, was published nearly a century ago; the former NAACP leader Walter White published his memoir, A Man Called White, in 1948. Upon his death in 1955, The New York Times wrote that the fair-skinned White “could easily have joined the 12,000 Negroes who pass the color-line and disappear into the white majority every year in this country. But he deliberately sacrificed his comfort to publicize himself as a Negro and to devote his entire adult life to completing the emancipation of his people.” Absent from Williams’s memoir is any critical analysis of texts written by White or even by major figures such as Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. DuBois, Angela Davis, or Malcolm X.

Hannah Giorgis, “A Simplistic View of a Mixed-ish America,” The Atlantic, October 26, 2019. https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2019/10/mixed-ish-thomas-chatterton-williams-race/600679/.

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Race, Gender, and Sexuality in Nella Larsen’s Passing: An Exploration of Performed Identity

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Papers/Presentations, United States on 2019-10-24 16:38Z by Steven

Race, Gender, and Sexuality in Nella Larsen’s Passing: An Exploration of Performed Identity

President’s Writing Awards (2019)
Boise State University, Boise, Idaho
2019

Aly Sebright

Author in hoodie.
Aly Sebright

Currently in its 37th year, the President’s Writing Awards contest honors undergraduate writing at Boise State.

My name is Alyson Sebright. I was born in Boise and grew up in Nampa, where I still reside. I’m currently a Junior majoring in English with an emphasis in Literature here at Boise State, with plans to study abroad in Stirling, Scotland this coming Fall of 2019. I chose to study literature because of my deep passion for storytelling, not only in telling my own stories but better understanding those of others. I believe wholeheartedly that sharing stories can change the world and for that reason I study literature with the intention of one day working in the publishing field as a developmental fiction editor. After graduation I am planning to pursue a graduate degree, either through a Fulbright program or a graduate school here in the States. When I’m not studying, I can usually be found loitering around the Writing Center with my coworkers, doing photography around town, or working on my latest creative writing project.

Nella Larsen’s novel, Passing, centers around the experience of two biracial women whose identities are primarily performative as they navigate life with the privilege of “passing” as White. Through this narrative, Larsen suggests that both racial and gender/sexual identities are as largely performative as they are inherent. Passing explores the ideas of both these identities as they exist in a world where passing is possible. Larsen calls into question the very nature of such concepts and their intersections: how identity shapes the experiences of individuals, and how those individuals shape those identities in turn.

The novel evaluates racial identity in several ways, but centers upon the socially-enforced performative nature of biracialism. In one of the opening scenes, Irene is waited upon in a rooftop cafe where she is passing as White in order to exist within the space and receive the service she desires. Larsen explains of Irene: “Never, when she was alone, had they [White people] even remotely seemed to suspect that she was a Negro” (Larsen 8). This is one of the first moments in which the reader sees Irene engage in the activity of “passing”, and it emphasizes the nature of race as a performative identity in the case of “mulatto” or lighter skinned Black individuals, whose biracial identity is largely ignored, forcing such individuals to “choose” to perform one race or another. As one scholar explains: “the act of passing both subverts racial categories and reinforces them, employing the logic that people of mixed ancestry are ‘really’ black but pretend to be white” (Nisetich 350). In this moment, Irene’s choice to pass, while it does afford her the desired effect of being treated as a White citizen, necessitates her to temporarily deny her racial identity. This choice is inherently ironic, as Irene becomes obsessed with the idea of racial “loyalty” as the novel continues, in relation to her perceptions of Clare’s decision to pass as White…

Read the entire essay here.

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Passing, in Moments

Posted in Articles, Autobiography, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2019-07-29 00:07Z by Steven

Passing, in Moments

Topic Magazine
Issue No. 25, Journeys
July 2019

Mat Johnson

The uneasy existence of being black and passing for white.

When I was 12, my Aunt Margaret told me, “You got straight hair, you got pale skin. If people don’t know you’re colored, don’t tell them.”

Aunt Margaret was black, but if you said “black” and not “colored,” she would go off on you. I was black too—still am—but I look white. Or I look whitish; it depends on the viewer. My father’s white and my mother is black, but high yellow and racially ambiguous. Though my mom insisted I was black too, I found a strong argument against that every time I looked in the mirror. And I grew up cut off from my extended black family, which just added to that feeling of disconnection. Sometimes I’d tell other kids I was black, and until they saw my mom, they wouldn’t believe me.

One time I told Aunt Margaret, “Nobody at school knows I’m black—”

“Colored.”

“Nobody at school knows I’m colored.”

She looked at me like I’d lost my mind. That’s when she said it, holding one of my flaccid brown curls in her hand like it was a piece of gold. “You got straight hair, you got pale skin. If people don’t know you’re colored, don’t tell them!”

At 12 years old, I thought Aunt Margaret was confused. I thought her response was antiquated, ridiculously old-fashioned, like how she insisted on using the word “colored” instead of “black.” I thought it was cute. I thought it was funny.

At 19, radical as all undergraduates should be, I thought that, despite how much I loved Aunt Margaret, that she was a color-struck sellout for telling me to live my life as a white man. That, in essence, she was encouraging me to abandon my roots, to reject the black community, in exchange for complete access to white privilege.

At 49, I think she told me what she told me because she loved me. Because she’d been black in America for 80-some years and she didn’t want me to have to endure the way she did. That she wanted the safety of whiteness for me. That she wanted me to thrive, but also to have the full force of America’s wind at my back, instead of getting hit with it head-on.

That Aunt Margaret was expressing what generations of black mothers sometimes told white-appearing children, particularly boys: escape from blackness for your survival.

(And, also, she was color-struck.)…

Read the entire article here.

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“You’re Neither One Thing (N)or The Other”: Nella Larsen, Philip Roth, and The Passing Trope

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2019-05-22 17:53Z by Steven

“You’re Neither One Thing (N)or The Other”: Nella Larsen, Philip Roth, and The Passing Trope

Philip Roth Studies
Volume 8, Number 1, Spring 2012
pages 45-61

Donavan L. Ramon, Assistant Professor of Liberal Studies
Kentucky State University

Philip Roth has historically been situated in a male literary tradition, with critics assessing him alongside Saul Bellow, Bernard Malamud, and more recently, Charles Chesnutt and Ralph Ellison. Because of his problematic portrayals of women characters, Roth is not often discussed alongside women writers. My paper goes beyond this by situating Roth alongside a black woman writer, Nella Larsen. In fact, Larsen’s Passing (1929) and Roth’s The Human Stain (2000) share several thematic and structural similarities, such as the tropes of belated race learning, double consciousness, anonymous letter writing, taboo sexualities, and ambiguous deaths. My essay argues that these tropes underlie passing narratives and reveal the development of twentieth century passing texts.

Read or purchase the article here.

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The (Dis)Ability of Color; or, That Middle World: Toward A New Understanding of 19th and 20th Century Passing Narratives

Posted in Dissertations, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2019-03-25 13:16Z by Steven

The (Dis)Ability of Color; or, That Middle World: Toward A New Understanding of 19th and 20th Century Passing Narratives

University of Massachusetts, Amherst
2015

Julia S. Charles, Assistant Professor of English
Auburn University, Auburn, Alabama

This dissertation mines the intersection of racial performance and the history of the so-called “tragic mulatto” figure in American fiction. I propose that while many white writers depicted the “mulatto” character as inherently flawed because of some tainted “black blood,” many black writers’ depictions of mixed-race characters imagine solutions to the race problem. Many black writers critiqued some of America’s most egregious sins by demonstrating linkages between major shifts in American history and the mixed-race figure. Landmark legislation such as, Fugitive Slave Act 1850 and Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) are often plotlines in African American passing literature, thus demonstrating the failure of America to acknowledge its wrongdoings against people of color. While this project surveys passing narratives collectively, it pays careful consideration to those novelists whose presentations of the mixed-race figure challenge previously conceived notions of the “tragic mulatto” figure. I investigate how the writers each illuminate elements of the history of slavery and its aftermath in order to remark on black disenfranchisement at the turn of the century. Ultimately, however, I argue for the importance of the mixed-race figure as a potent symbol for imagined resolution between the larger narrative of American freedom and enslavement of blacks in the United States.

I examine several works of African American racial passing literature: William Wells Brown’s The Escape; Or, A Leap for Freedom (1858), the first published play by an African American writer. It explores the complexities of American culture at a time when tensions between North and South were about to explode into the Civil War. Running a Thousand Miles for Freedom; or, the Escape of William and Ellen Craft from Slavery (1860), tells the true story of the mixed-race Ellen Craft and her husband who escaped to freedom through various racial performances. Nella Larsen sets her novella Passing (1929) in Harlem in the 1920s. The story centers on two childhood friends reunited, but each dealing with their mixed-race ancestry in different ways. Jessie Redmon Fauset’s Plum Bun: A Novel Without a Moral (1928) and The Chinaberry Tree: A Novel of American Life (1931) and Charles W. Chesnutt’s “The Wife of His Youth” and “A Matter of Principle” (1900). endeavors to depict a better class of blacks through her examination of the fair-skinned bourgeois-striver Angela Murray. Each of these stories address American legacies of racism and representation beginning with the Civil War.

I investigate how these authors use the mixed-race figure (mostly) following the Civil War to mark the continuing impact that its legacy has had on black Americans through the New Negro Harlem Renaissance, but also to gesture to the mythic moment of freedom symbolized by successfully crossing the so-called color line. In addition to cataloguing an era of migration, the African American passing narrative represents the moment in which we shift from only seeing characters in terms of monoracial identities. These writers suggest that new performative modes of racial affiliation are necessary to achieve freedom. Reminding us that characters of mixed status practiced race in ways that enabled them to build shared identity despite an often disparate cultural heritage, these works suggest that identities like blackness are always constituted through performance. I argue that racial passing facilitated the “performance” of whiteness together with, an acknowledgment of what is accepted as blackness.

Login to read the dissertation here.

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What is Racial Passing?

Posted in Economics, History, Law, Media Archive, Native Americans/First Nation, Passing, Slavery, United States, Videos on 2019-03-03 03:59Z by Steven

What is Racial Passing?

Digital Studios: Origin of Everything
PBS Digital Studios
Public Broadcasting Service
Season 2, Episode 13 (First Aired: 2019-02-27)

Danielle Bainbridge, Host, Writer, and Postdoctoral Fellow
Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois

What motivates someone to disguise their race, gender, religion, etc.? Today Danielle explores the complicated history of passing in the United States.

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Nella Larsen’s Etiquette Lesson: Small Talk, Racial Passing, and the Novel of Manners

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2019-02-04 15:19Z by Steven

Nella Larsen’s Etiquette Lesson: Small Talk, Racial Passing, and the Novel of Manners

Novel: A Forum on Fiction
Volume 51, Issue 1 (2018-05-01)
pages 1-16
DOI: 10.1215/00295132-4357365

Matthew Krumholtz
Department of English
Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey

Issue Cover

This essay explores how novelists of the Harlem Renaissance deploy small talk to disrupt racial identification. Nella Larsen’s Passing (1929) serves as a case study showing that small talk magnifies a strange intimacy between passing narratives and etiquette manuals in the early twentieth century. While critics have tended to view small talk under the rubric of gossip, writers of the Harlem Renaissance call attention to the way that small talk enables racial passing by keeping dialogue on neutral and impersonal grounds. Nella Larsen makes peculiarly pronounced use of small talk, which emerges in her fiction as a self-accenting style of racial embodiment and a bold revision to the American novel of manners and to early twentieth-century etiquette manuals. Drawing on sociolinguistics and microsociology, this essay argues that Larsen unsettles the cultural tendency to equate passing with self-denial, converting small talk to an equivocal medium for passing that, paradoxically, makes audible a protest against racial segregation and social regulation.

Read or purchase the article here.

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Racial Passing and Its Transatlantic Contexts

Posted in Literary/Artistic Criticism, Live Events, Media Archive, Passing, United States, Women on 2018-11-12 23:30Z by Steven

Racial Passing and Its Transatlantic Contexts

5 University Gardens
Room 101
University of Glasgow
Glasgow, United Kingdom
Tuesday, 2018-11-20, 17:15Z

Janine Bradbury, Senior Lecturer in Literature
York St John University York, United Kingdom

JBradbury170802-Staff-Profile.jpg

The Transatlantic Literary Women are excited to be welcoming Dr. Janine Bradbury to Glasgow to give a paper titled: “Racial Passing and Its Transatlantic Contexts”. The talk takes place in room 101, 5 University Gardens at 5.15pm on Tuesday 20th November with drinks and refreshments available from 5. This is a social, friendly gathering. As always, everyone is welcome. Hope to see you there!

During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, an entire literary genre emerged in the United States that revolved around light skinned, mixed race African Americans who ‘fraudulently’ pretended to be or passed for white in order to ‘evade’ racism, prejudice, and segregation. Films like Imitation of Life brought the topic to a national audience and writers as diverse as William Faulkner, Mark Twain, and Langston Hughes featured passing in their works.

Given that the United States has a distinct history of race relations, how do stories about passing ‘work’ beyond these regional and national contexts? And do American stories about passing inspire and hold relevance for writers across the black Atlantic? How is gender and nationhood represented in these works? And what role do women writers play in the history of the passing genre?

This talk explores the phenomenon of ‘passing-for-white’ as represented in the work of transatlantic literary women ranging from Harlem Renaissance writer Nella Larsen to contemporary British writer Helen Oyeyemi and asks why passing continues to inspire women writers across the West.

For more information, click here.

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