How Netflix’s adaptation of Passing reflects the novel’s time — and ours

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, Passing, United States, Women on 2021-11-13 20:59Z by Steven

How Netflix’s adaptation of Passing reflects the novel’s time — and ours

Vox
2021-11-10

Alissa Wilkinson

Ruth Negga and Tessa Thompson in Passing. Courtesy of Netflix

In Rebecca Hall’s film, Nella Larsen’s story comes to life in black and white.

Halfway through Nella Larsen’s 1929 novel Passing, the book’s protagonist, Irene Redfield, is feeling uneasy. She has just had a tense argument with her husband. Now, watching him fiddle with his hat, Irene is worrying: “Was she never to be free of it, that fear which crouched, always, deep down within her, stealing away the sense of security, the feeling of permanence, from the life which she had so admirably arranged for them all, and desired so ardently to have remain as it was?”

Larsen’s book is suffused with that sense of unease, the feeling that one wrong move might undo a life entirely, that the structures on which our families, routines, and even identities rest are precarious. And the new Netflix movie based on Larsen’s book, adapted for the screen by Rebecca Hall and starring Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga, brings Larsen’s prose — unease and all — to vibrant, visual life.

The story transitions seamlessly to the screen in part because the “passing” of the title refers primarily (though not exclusively) to its main characters’ ability, in a segregated society, to “pass” as white. The story centers on Irene (Thompson) and a childhood friend, Clare Kendry (Negga), with whom Irene unexpectedly reconnects one day at a whites-only hotel. Both women are Black, having parents or grandparents who were Black, but both are also light-skinned enough for white people of similar social class to assume otherwise…

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The Passing Trailer Highlights That Race Is A Delusion

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United States, Women on 2021-11-13 00:36Z by Steven

The Passing Trailer Highlights That Race Is A Delusion

Refinery29
2021-09-24

Nylah Burton

Photo: Courtesy of Netflix.

“Race is a delusion,” my friend sighed. We had been discussing passing, the act of someone from one race being accepted or perceived as a member of another, usually a marginalized race to white. After numerous anecdotes about the ridiculous race science-y tactics — gauging the slope of a nose is a popular one — that people employed to categorize others, this was our conclusion.

A week later, our Twitter timelines were scattered with comments on a tantalizing trailer for Passing, a forthcoming Netflix movie based on Nella Larsen’s 1929 novella of the same name. The film, which will be released on November 10, stars Ruth Negga as Clare and Tessa Thompson as Irene. According to Larson’s original story, both Clare and Irene are supposed to be white-passing.

Still, no matter how good their acting is, Negga and Thompson are not Clare and Irene. They’re not “dark-white” or “olive-skinned” characters on a page onto which we can project our own individual images. They’re flesh and bone people that the public solidly recognizes as Black women. There’s no real chance of delusion because we already feel in the know. Because of that, Twitter debated whether these two women could actually be white-passing. For many, the idea was ridiculous. They pointed out the features of Negga and Thompson’s flesh and bone — their skin, the shape of their noses, the curl of their baby hairs — to say it was impossible that these two women could have passed for white in the 1920s…

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‘Passing,’ Ruth Negga refuses to be pinned down

Posted in Articles, Arts, Autobiography, Europe, Interviews, Media Archive, Passing, United Kingdom, United States, Women on 2021-11-12 19:40Z by Steven

‘Passing,’ Ruth Negga refuses to be pinned down

The Los Angeles Times
2021-11-11

Sonaiya Kelley, Staff Writer

Actress Ruth Negga stars in “Passing,” now streaming on Netflix. (Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

Ruth Negga has given the subject of identity a lot of thought.

And not just because she stars as Clare Kendry, a fair-skinned Black woman who moves through life as a white woman, in “Passing,” Rebecca Hall’s adaptation of Nella Larsen’s 1929 novel. No, Negga’s musings on identity stem back to her childhood in Ireland and England, where she was first introduced to the concept of being othered.

“To be honest, I’ve never fit in anywhere,” she said over Zoom in October. “I think being Black in Ireland when there wasn’t that many Black people and being Black and Irish in London at an all-white school in the early ’90s wasn’t great for me either.”

At the same time, being hard to categorize has not always been a bad thing, she says. “I think sometimes there is a pleasure I get in being different. I felt safe being the other in many ways because that’s where I could be my whole, true self.”

The Ethiopian-Irish actor frequently upends notions of social constructs such as race and identity in her work. In “Passing,” which is set in the 1920s, Clare enjoys the privileges afforded only to white women by day while sneaking off to Harlem to commune with Black folks by night (Tessa Thompson co-stars as Irene, a woman who only flirts with the possibility of passing). And in 2016’s “Loving,” Negga stars as Mildred Jeter, a woman in an interracial marriage who challenges the Supreme Court to end the anti-miscegenation laws that condemn her marriage as unlawful…

Read the entire interview here.

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Ruth Negga Crafted a ‘F*ck-You Machine’ to the Establishment with Her Radiant Turn in ‘Passing’

Posted in Articles, Arts, Media Archive, Passing, United States, Women on 2021-11-10 01:53Z by Steven

Ruth Negga Crafted a ‘F*ck-You Machine’ to the Establishment with Her Radiant Turn in ‘Passing’

IndieWire
2021-11-05

Jude Dry

Ruth Negga in “Passing
Netflix

Negga’s provocative and strong-willed character in Rebecca Hall’s film highlights the actress’ singular talent.

Ruth Negga’s radiant performance in “Passing” is almost unrecognizable from her last Oscar-nominated role. Those who only know the Irish and Ethiopian actress as Mildred Loving, the soft-spoken, steady heroine of 2016’s romantic drama “Loving,” are in for a delightfully rude awakening when they meet Clare Bellew, the destabilizing force whirling through director Rebecca Hall’s new film.

While Mildred was resolute and composed in the face of injustice, Clare is provocative and strong-willed, a sunny seductress determined to live life exactly on her terms. Though they live in very different worlds, Clare has a lot more in common with Negga’s hot-headed “Preacher” character Tulip than she does with Mildred — and with the charismatic Negga herself.

In an interview with IndieWire, Negga explained why she embraced her latest onscreen character. “Everything about Clare for me is a fuck-you to an establishment, any kind of establishment,” she said. “A Black woman wanting something, being fully invested in her ability to seduce anyone, her enjoyment of it, her enjoyment of flirting with danger, but also, at the same time, acknowledging that she cannot be safe.” She described Nella Larsen’s original novella, which inspired the movie, as “a fuck-you machine … but also a very human one, because everything about her is a worry to the status quo.”…

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Tessa Thompson Delves Into the Subtext of ‘Passing’: ‘None of Us Fit Too Squarely in Boxes’

Posted in Articles, Arts, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, Passing, United States, Women on 2021-11-09 02:54Z by Steven

Tessa Thompson Delves Into the Subtext of ‘Passing’: ‘None of Us Fit Too Squarely in Boxes’

Variety
2021-11-05

Angelique Jackson, Reporter


Ryan Pfluger / AUGUST

In “Passing,” Tessa Thompson stars as Irene Redfield, a Black woman living in Harlem amid the Renaissance, whose life with her doctor husband Brian (André Holland) and their two sons is turned upside down when she reconnects with Clare Kendry (Ruth Negga), a childhood acquaintance who’s since begun passing for white and is married to a wealthy (and racist) businessman named John (Alexander Skarsgård). The movie, which marks Rebecca Hall’s feature directorial debut, recently earned five Gotham Award nominations, including a lead performance nod for Thompson. Beyond her own acknowledgment, Thompson explains, those accolades represent something more. “It was so hard to get the film made because of the subject matter and because it’s shot in black and white,” she tells Variety. “When movies like this do well, all that does is make room for more stories like this to be told.”…

Read the entire interview here.

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Passing: On crossing the color line

Posted in Articles, History, Media Archive, Passing, United States, Videos on 2021-11-03 15:27Z by Steven

Passing: On crossing the color line

CBS Sunday Morning
CBS News
2021-10-24

Passing can be a gray area that some biracial or multiracial Americans face when navigating questions of identity and social acceptance, while defining the story we tell about ourselves. “CBS Saturday Morning” co-host Michelle Miller talks with Rebecca Hall, Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga, the director and stars of the new film “Passing,” and with writers Lise Funderburg and Allyson Hobbs, about the social history of passing, and its impact upon perception and power.

It’s been a theme in Hollywood for years, from “Imitation of Life,” to “The Human Stain.” And off-screen, the subject of “passing” – crossing the color line – is just as complex.

“The world perceives me as White, at least visually,” said Chicago lawyer Martina Hone, who has lived her whole life balancing her Black mother’s identity with her European father’s privilege.

“CBS Saturday Morning” co-host Michelle Miller asked, “Have you ever passed at any point in your life?”…

Read the story here.

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The Fearlessness of Passing

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2021-11-02 22:02Z by Steven

The Fearlessness of Passing

Dissent
2021-10-27

Charles Taylor

Ruth Negga’s Clare (left) and Tessa Thompson’s Irene in a still from Passing. (Netflix)

Rebecca Hall’s adaptation of Nella Larsen’s 1929 novel continues the author’s exploration of the suffocating strictures of the color line.

Making a movie of Nella Larsen’s 1929 novel Passing, one of the great works of the Harlem Renaissance—and, I’d argue, a great American novel—would be tricky in any era. That the actress Rebecca Hall, making her directing debut, has done a close-to-devastating job of it in this era is a remarkable achievement.

The novel is the story of two girlhood friends who reencounter each other as young, married women, one passing for white and the other firmly settled into the life of Harlem’s black bourgeoisie. Larsen practically invites the careless reader to fall into well-intentioned sociological clichés—in other words, to believe that this is a novel about the tragedy that befalls those who, driven by racist persecution, cross the color line and betray their own.

Actually, the novel is about the absurdity of the color line as a concept, about race as “the thing that bound and suffocated.” For Larsen, the idea that you could betray your race was another way of saying that people should stick to their own kind. It’s the passing Clare, a slim, pale-skinned, heedless beauty, who is Larsen’s heroine. Clare, taken in as a maid by her poor white aunts when her alcoholic father dies, doesn’t decide to pass because she’s oppressed but because she’s shunned by the well-heeled black people among whom she grew up. (In one stinging scene, Clare, already passing, approaches an old school friend whom she recognizes while shopping in Marshall Field’s, only to have the woman cut her dead.) Clare is hungry for life and for pleasure, which she takes as it comes to her. The way in which she crosses back and forth between black and white, between the thrill of a Negro Welfare League dance and white upper-middle-class society, makes a hash of the polite segregation—of both race and class—to which the novel’s other protagonist, Irene, pays obeisance…

Read the entire article here.

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Passing review – Rebecca Hall’s stylish and subtle study of racial identity

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2021-11-02 19:48Z by Steven

Passing review – Rebecca Hall’s stylish and subtle study of racial identity

The Guardian
2021-10-28

Peter Bradshaw, Guardian Film Critic

Hypnotic … Tessa Thompson and André Holland in Passing. Photograph: Netflix

Hall’s directing debut stars Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga as friends who are both ‘passing’ for what they are not in an adaptation of Nella Larsen’s 1929 novel

Rebecca Hall makes her directing debut with this intimately disturbing movie, adapted by her from the 1929 novel by Nella Larsen. Irene (Tessa Thompson) and Clare (Ruth Negga) are two women of colour, former school friends who run into each other by chance in an upscale Manhattan hotel in prohibition-era America. They are both light-skinned, but Irene is stunned to realise that her vivacious and now peroxide blonde friend Clare is “passing” for white these days, and that her odious, wealthy white husband John (Alexander Skarsgård) has no idea. As for sober and respectable Irene, she lives with her black doctor husband Brian (André Holland) in Harlem with their two sons and a black maid that she treats a little high-handedly.

There is an almost supernatural shiver in Irene and Clare’s meeting: as if the two women are the ghosts of each other’s alternative life choices. Irene is herself passing for middle class, passing for successful: she has an entrée into modish artistic circles through her friendship with the celebrated white novelist Hugh Wentworth (Bill Camp) who is passing for straight. But there is something else. Clare is also passing for happily married. The dangerously transgressive Clare, for whom this chance meeting has triggered a desperate homesickness for her black identity, demands access to Irene’s life and simperingly makes Brian’s acquaintance…

Read the entire review here.

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Passing review: Ruth Negga may well get another Oscar nomination

Posted in Articles, Arts, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2021-10-30 01:34Z by Steven

Passing review: Ruth Negga may well get another Oscar nomination

The Irish Times
2021-10-29

Donald Clarke, Chief Film Correspondent

Ruth Negga and Tessa Thompson in Passing

Film Title: Passing
Director: Rebecca Hall
Starring: Tessa Thompson, Ruth Negga, André Holland, Bill Camp, Gbenga Akinnagbe, Antoinette Crowe-Legacy, Alexander Skarsgård
Genre: Drama
Running Time: 98 min

This delicately observed portrait of racial dynamics is worth seeing in the cinema

If you sat down unsure whether you were being taken to another time, the gauzy monochrome and 4:3 aspect ratio would go some way to alleviating any doubt. Rebecca Hall’s take on a key African-American novel shrugs off its modest budget to offer a convincingly transportive vision of Harlem in the 1920s. Marci Rodgers’s costumes capture the prohibition lines without resorting to catwalky inverted-commas. The piano-heavy score from Devonté Hynes leans ever-so-gently on the bridge between ragtime and less jaunty sounds to come.

There is, of course, no reason to set Passing at any other time. Nella Larsen’s book is hardly buried in ancient obscurity. But it is still worth pointing towards the calendar. Any contemporary study of a black woman “passing” for white would move out under very different winds. When largely sympathetic characters here twig that Clare (Ruth Negga), a Chicagoan now married to an unsuspecting white jerk (Alexander Skarsgård), has taken on a Caucasian identity, there is variously surprise, irritation, curiosity, but little sense of shock and nothing you would call outrage. That last emotion is left for the racists. Passing is no longer such an everyday business as it once was (which is not to suggest it doesn’t happen). Any film dealing with such a story in the 21st century would necessarily play at a higher temperature. Hall’s decision to cut a late, explosive use of the N-word in the journey from novel to screenplay – though another remains – confirms how the dynamics have altered…

Read the entire review here.

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Using black and white also allowed Hall to cast Black actresses in the roles. She’s not trying to “fool” anyone into thinking that Negga or Thompson is white, she’s simply trying to turn the film’s deeply metaphorical ideas into a practical experience.

Posted in Excerpts/Quotes on 2021-10-29 15:06Z by Steven

Using black and white [media] also allowed [Rebecca] Hall to cast Black actresses in the roles. She’s not trying to “fool” anyone into thinking that Negga or Thompson is white, she’s simply trying to turn the film’s deeply metaphorical ideas into a practical experience. The audience will have “very fixed ideas about Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga’s racial identity,” Hall said, “which gives me a position from which to destabilize those ideas and point out the limits of just reducing them to that one definition.”

Kate Erbland, “‘Passing’: Rebecca Hall Made One of the Year’s Best Debuts, but for Years Nobody Would Fund It,” IndieWire, October 28, 2021. https://www.indiewire.com/2021/10/passing-rebecca-hall-interview-1234674475/.

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