Passing into Film: Rebecca Hall’s Adaptation of Nella Larsen

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Communications/Media Studies, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United States, Women on 2021-12-03 15:18Z by Steven

Passing into Film: Rebecca Hall’s Adaptation of Nella Larsen

Modernism/modernity
Volume 6, Cycle 2 (2021-11-10)

Rafael Walker, Assistant Professor of English
Baruch College, City University of New York

Fig. 1. Promotional poster for Rebecca Hall’s Passing (2021). Image via IMDB.

Director Rebecca Hall’s recent adaptation of Nella Larsen’s exquisite second novel, Passing (1929), is visually stunning. I had the pleasure of seeing the film on the big screen, during its limited theatrical run and before its Netflix release. It was the ideal atmosphere for absorbing this cinematic rendering of Larsen’s eerie, anxiety-ridden plot: ensconced with a sparse audience (my companion and I comprising two of the four patrons for the 5:10pm showing) in a small independent theater in Manhattan, just a few miles from where the story is set, and with Halloween everywhere looming on this late-October evening.1

These qualities of the novel were only enhanced by Hall’s decision to film it in black and white, a daring choice that she, a first-time filmmaker, had to fight for, as Alexandra Kleeman of the New York Times reports. On the one hand, this artistic decision conjures all the nervous palpitations that Hitchcock made synonymous with black-and-white mise-en-scène, maintaining the unshakable uneasiness one experiences while reading Larsen’s novel. On the other, it hurls the either-or terms of Jim Crow racial binarism into conflict with a predominating grayscale—an all-pervading sign of the fictionality of the dichotomizations structuring American culture. Nothing could be more in the spirit of Nella Larsen’s novel. I suspect, however, that Hall’s departures from the source text will attract the attention of modernists far more than her convergences…

Read the entire review here.

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“Passing,” Reviewed: Rebecca Hall’s Anguished Vision of Black Identity

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, Passing, United States, Women on 2021-11-28 17:12Z by Steven

“Passing,” Reviewed: Rebecca Hall’s Anguished Vision of Black Identity

The New Yorker
2021-11-08

Richard Brody

Ruth Negga and Tessa Thompson star in Rebecca Hall’sPassing,” a drama of images and self-images. Photograph courtesy Netflix

With a remarkable fusion of substance and style, Hall’s adaptation of Nella Larsen’s 1929 novel unfolds inner lives along with social crises.

Rebecca Hall’s directorial début, “Passing,” based on Nella Larsen’s 1929 novel of the same name, is one of the rare book adaptations that brings a literary style to the screen. The film’s sense of style is more than mere ornament; it embodies the confrontation with circumstances—practical, emotional, historical—at the heart of the story. “Passing” (coming to Netflix on Wednesday) is a period piece, set in Harlem during Prohibition, just before the Depression. The movie achieves an ample, resonant reconstruction of that era, but it doesn’t feature colossal sets or give the sense that entire neighborhoods were transformed for the purpose of shooting. Instead, Hall uses sharply defined locations imaginatively and conjures the time through her original way with light, texture, and gesture, all redolent of a storied yet troubled past. The result is an emotional immediacy that’s all the sharper for its subtlety, all the more intense for its contemplative refinement, and that, above all, gives apt expression to the film’s mighty and agonized subject.

The movie stars Tessa Thompson as Irene Redfield, a woman of about thirty who lives in a Harlem town house with her husband—Brian (André Holland), a doctor—and their two sons, one a child and the other on the cusp of puberty. She’s an activist who works as a volunteer for a (fictitious) charitable organization called the Negro League while also running the household. A light-skinned Black woman, she’s taken for white by white people in the course of her errands outside Harlem on a hot summer day. At a hotel café, Irene encounters Clare Bellew (Ruth Negga), a friend from high school whom she hasn’t seen in a dozen years. Clare, too, has light skin—but, unlike Irene, she intentionally passes for white. She’s married to a wealthy white banker named John (Alexander Skarsgård) and lives her entire life amid white society. Clare’s reunion with Irene (whom she calls Reenie) awakens a long-suppressed desire to exist among Black people, to affirm her own identity without shame or fear. Clare imposes herself on the Redfield household, befriends Brian and the boys, takes part in Negro League social events run by Irene—and, in doing so, knowingly confronts the grave risk that John will find out that she’s Black…

Read the entire review here.

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Rebecca Hall’s Passing Says The Most In The Silences

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, Passing, United States, Women on 2021-11-19 22:40Z by Steven

Rebecca Hall’s Passing Says The Most In The Silences

Elle
2021-11-12

Christine Jean-Baptiste
Montréal, Quebec

Passing opens on a busy street in 1920s New York. A mysterious woman (Tessa Thompson) is roaming through Manhattan. In this part of town, she anxiously hides behind a wide-brimmed hat covering half her face. It’s every bit intentional. When she later settles down in the grand tea room at The Drayton Hotel, she stays camouflaged among a sea of lily-white couples. As she people-watches, her eyes lock on an almost unnoticeable old friend, Clare Kendry (Ruth Negga), who blends in perfectly with the crowd.

In her directorial debut, Rebecca Hall takes on an ambitious adaptation of Passing, a 1929 novel written by Harlem Renaissance author Nella Larsen about two Black women who live parallel truths: one, Clare, is passing as white, and the other, Thompson’s Irene, envies the privileges that come with the act. When it first premiered at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival, Passing was touted as a “psychological thriller about obsession, repression, and the lies people tell themselves and others to protect their carefully constructed realities.” But the film is less potent than its subject matter. Instead, race identity in America is a soft whisper that is meant to haunt instead of educate.

Though both of these light-skinned Black women have shared a similar upbringing, Irene and Clare could not have grown further apart. Irene lives in Harlem with her two children and charming husband (André Holland), who is Black. Clare has dyed her hair blonde and lives partially in Europe with her daughter and racist husband (Alexander Skarsgård), who is white. After catching up over champagne in Clare’s suite, the dynamic between the two women tightens, emphasized by the enclosing camera shots. While Clare seems delighted to be reunited with an old friend, Irene appears hesitant and reserved. It doesn’t make Irene any more comfortable when Clare says dating a rich white man is “well worth the price,” implying that she’s comfortable passing as a white woman and benefiting from it. Or when Clare’s husband walks in, expressing his gratitude for Clare’s “whiteness.” Irene soon realizes that her childhood friend was now someone with a secret, because the man who hates Black people so much did not realize his wife was one…

Read the article here.

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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 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’ Trailer: Tessa Thompson & Ruth Negga Star In Netflix Movie It Landed At Sundance

Posted in Articles, Media Archive, Passing, United States, Videos on 2021-09-23 01:54Z by Steven

‘Passing’ Trailer: Tessa Thompson & Ruth Negga Star In Netflix Movie It Landed At Sundance

Deadline Hollywood
2021-09-21

Patrick Hipes, Executive Managing Editor

Netflix made a splash at this year’s Sundance Film Festival when it acquired Rebecca Hall’s Passing, the drama starring Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga. Hall, making her directorial debut, adapted the film from the 1929 novel by Nella Larson. Now the streamer is prepping for the film’s New York Film Festival slot October 3, after which it will get a theatrical release followed by a debut on the service November 10.

The pic, shot it black and white, tells the story of two Black women, Irene Redfield (Thompson) and Clare Kendry (Negga), who can “pass” as white but choose to live on opposite sides of the color line during the height of the Harlem Renaissance in late 1920s New York. After a chance encounter, Irene reluctantly allows Clare into her home, where she ingratiates herself to Irene’s husband (André Holland) and family, and soon her larger social circle as well. Irene soon finds her once-steady existence upended by Clare, and the the story becomes one about obsession, repression and the lies people tell themselves and others to protect their carefully constructed realities…

Read the entire article here.

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