The Fiction of the Color Line

Posted in Articles, Biography, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United States, Women on 2021-10-21 01:01Z by Steven

The Fiction of the Color Line

Vulture
2021-10-18

Brittany Luse

Photo-Illustration: Vulture; Photo: Getty, Yale University Library

Black women writers have long used passing stories to crack our façades of race, class, and gender.

Somewhere on Long Island around 1980, a blondish preteen is onstage at summer camp channeling Hodel from Fiddler on the Roof, her confident voice and star power self-evident. Her tawny-skinned father beams from the audience, and as she takes her bow, soaking in the applause, he approaches the stage bearing a hefty bouquet of daisies. He hands her the flowers, their eyes and hearts locking for a beat in shared pride. Then the girl realizes that every other parent, instructor, and child in the auditorium is staring at them. “Not in a way that felt good, not because I had given the outstanding performance of the night,” she would recall decades later. “They were staring because my father was the only Black man in sight, and I belonged to him.” The others had assumed until that moment that Mariah Carey — the girl with the frizzy honey-blonde hair — was white like them.

The Meaning of Mariah Carey, the singer’s delectable memoir co-written with Michaela Angela Davis, a former editor at Essence and Vibe, recalls many such stories. In doing so, it’s in direct conversation with the American literary tradition of novels about passing and passing-capable Black women — stories about the concealment, or the possibility of concealment, of one’s Black parentage and all of the attendant personal and social complexity. Since the late-19th century, writers have used passing as a narrative tool to do everything from encouraging white readers to sympathize with the struggles of Black characters to scrutinizing the hypocrisy of America’s racial hierarchy…

Read the entire article here.

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The Secret Toll of Racial Ambiguity

Posted in Articles, Biography, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2021-10-20 13:28Z by Steven

The Secret Toll of Racial Ambiguity

The New York Times Magazine
2021-10-20

Alexandra Kleeman, Assistant Professor of Writing
The New School, New York, New York

Rebecca Hall Carly Zavala for The New York Times

Rebecca Hall’s new film adaptation of the 1929 novel “Passing” has cracked open a public conversation about colorism and privilege.

When Rebecca Hall read Nella Larsen’s groundbreaking 1929 novel, “Passing,” over a decade ago, she felt an intense, immediate attachment to it. The story seemed to clarify so much that was mysterious about her own identity — the unnameable gaps in her family history that shaped her life in their very absence, the way a sinkhole in the road distorts the path of traffic blocks away.

The novel follows Irene Redfield and Clare Kendry, two light-skinned Black women who grew up in the same Chicago neighborhood and shared a friendship complicated by differences in class and social status. When Clare’s father died, she was sent off to live with white relatives, while Irene went on to become firmly ensconced in the vibrant Black artistic and cultural community of 1920s Harlem, wife to a Black doctor and mother to two dark-skinned young boys. One day, while passing for convenience on the rooftop restaurant of a whites-only hotel, Irene is recognized by a beautiful blond woman, who turns out to be Clare — who now not only lives her life as a white woman but is also mother to a white-passing daughter and married to a bigoted man who has no clue about her mixed-race heritage. The friends’ reunion crackles with tension, charged with curiosity, envy and longing.

When Clare asks Irene if she has ever thought about passing in a more permanent way herself, Irene responds disdainfully: “No. Why should I?” She adds, “You see, Clare, I’ve everything I want.” And maybe it’s true that the respectable, high-status life Irene has built in Harlem encompasses everything a serious woman, committed to lifting up her race, should want. But Clare’s sudden presence begins to raise a sense of dangerous possibility within Irene — one of unacknowledged desires and dissatisfactions. When she sees the ease with which Clare re-enters and ingratiates herself within Black society, it threatens Irene’s feeling of real, authentic belonging.

Raised in England within the elite circles of classical theater, Hall, who is 39, had her first introduction to the concept of racial “passing” in the pages of Larsen’s novel. “I was spending time in America, and I knew that there had been vague, but I mean really vague, talk about my mother’s ethnicity,” Hall explained over the phone this spring. Her voice is calm and poised, with a warm polish to it, and she tends to speak in composed paragraphs. Over the year that we had corresponded, Hall hadn’t been acting much and had instead spent time writing screenplays from the Hudson Valley home that she shares with her daughter and her husband, the actor Morgan Spector. “Sometimes she would intimate that maybe there was African American ancestry, or sometimes she would intimate that there was Indigenous ancestry. But she didn’t really know; it wasn’t available to her.”…

Read the entire article here.

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‘Passing’: Rebecca Hall Reveals Personal Link To Directorial Debut – Contenders London

Posted in Articles, Arts, Media Archive, Passing on 2021-10-10 21:21Z by Steven

‘Passing’: Rebecca Hall Reveals Personal Link To Directorial Debut – Contenders London

Hollywood Deadline
2021-10-09

Anna Smith

Diana Lodderhose, Rebecca Hall, Ruth Negga and André Holland
Deadline

Rebecca Hall revealed a personal link to her directorial debut Passing at Deadline’s Contenders Film: London this morning. Joined on stage by stars Ruth Negga and André Holland, she explained why she adapted Nella Larsen’s 1929 novel. “My mother’s from Detroit and her father was African American and passed for white his whole life. When I read the book, it clicked into place: obviously that’s what my grandfather did — for his family, his children’s life.”

Based on Nella Larsen’s 1929 novel, writer-director Hall’s Passing explores the lives of two mixed-race childhood friends, Irene (Tessa Thompson) and Clare (Ruth Negga), who reunite as adults. They become involved in each other’s lives and explore how they diverged due to Irene identifying as Black while Clare “passes” as white. Holland, Alexander Skarsgård, Bill Camp and Gbenga Akinnagbe also star in the film, which premiered at Sundance. Netflix acquired the pic in February for nearly $15 million…

Read the entire article here.

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Gibbes Museum’s Film Series to Focus on Racial Passing

Posted in Articles, Arts, Live Events, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2021-09-30 03:19Z by Steven

Gibbes Museum’s Film Series to Focus on Racial Passing

Holy City Sinner
Charleston, South Carolina
2021-09-23


Ruth Negga and Tessa Thompson appear in “Passing” by Rebecca Hall, an official selection of the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Edu Grau

The Gibbes Museum of Art has announced the second installment of its film series, titled “Gibbes Films in Focus: Passing Strange,” which will feature the Lowcountry’s first screening of the 2021 Sundance Film Festival selection, “Passing,” by Rebecca Hall, starring Tessa Thompson, Ruth Negga, Andre Holland, and Alexander Skarsgård and adapted from the groundbreaking novel by Nella Larsen.

In this series, the Gibbes will explore the tradition of race-passing narratives as represented on the silver screen. From Kate Chopin’s 1893 short story “Désirée’s Baby,” to the 1936 and 1951 adaptations of the musical “Showboat,” America has been enthralled by passing narratives, whereby a person of Black descent, but of ambiguous or white features, slips into white society, destabilizing the strict racial codes that have governed so much of American life. This three-part series will be held at the museum this fall…

Read the entire article here.

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Erasure and Recollection: Memories of Racial Passing

Posted in Anthologies, Book/Video Reviews, Caribbean/Latin America, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Louisiana, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2021-09-29 01:09Z by Steven

Erasure and Recollection: Memories of Racial Passing

Peter Lang
September 2021
366 pages
13 fig. b/w.
Paperback ISBN:978-2-8076-1625-7
ePUB ISBN:978-2-8076-1627-1 (DOI: 10.3726/b18256)

Edited by:

Hélène Charlery, Professor of English Literature
University of Toulouse-Jean Jaurès, Toulouse, France

Aurélie Guillain, Professor of American Literature
University of Toulouse-Jean Jaurès, Toulouse, France

Many recent studies of racial passing have emphasized the continuing, almost haunting power of racial segregation even in the post-segregation period in the US, or in the post-apartheid period in South Africa. This “present-ness” of racial passing, the fact that it has not really become “passé,” is noticeable in the great number of testimonies which have been published in the 2000s and 2010s by descendants of individuals who passed for white in the English-speaking world. The sheer number of publications suggest a continuing interest in the kind of relation to the personal and national past which is at stake in the long-delayed revelation of cases of racial passing.

This interest in family memoirs or in fictional works re-tracing the erasure of some relative’s racial identity is by no means limited to the United States: for instance, Zoë Wicomb in South Africa or Zadie Smith in the UK both use the passing novel to unravel the complex situation of mixed-race subjects in relation to their family past and to a national past marked by a history of racial inequality.

Yet, the vast majority of critical approaches to racial passing have so far remained largely focused on the United States and its specific history of race relations. The objective of this volume is twofold: it aims at shedding light on the way texts or films show the work of individual memory and collective recollection as they grapple with a racially divided past, struggling with its legacy or playing with its stereotypes. Our second objective has been to explore the great variety in the forms taken by racial passing depending on the context, which in turn leads to differences in the ways it is remembered. Focusing on how a previously erased racial identity may resurface in the present has enabled us to extend the scope of our study to other countries than the United States, so that this volume hopes to propose some new, transnational directions in the study of racial passing.

Table of Contents

  • Introduction – Hélène Charlery and Aurélie Guillain
  • Part I: Memories of Racial Passing – Reconstructing Local and Personal Histories – From Homer Plessy to Paul Broyard
    • To Pass or Not to Pass in New Orleans – Nathalie Dessens
    • Racial Passing at New Orleans Mardi Gras; From Reconstruction to the Mid- Twentieth Century: Flight of Fancy or Masked Resistance? – Aurélie Godet
    • Passing through New Orleans, Atlanta, and New York City: The Dynamics of Racial Assignation in Walter White’s Flight (1926) – Aurélie Guillain
    • African American Women Activists and Racial Passing: Personal Journeys and Subversive Strategies (1880s– 1920s) – Élise Vallier-Mathieu
  • Part II: Memory, Consciousness and the Fantasy of Amnesia in Passing Novels
    • “What Irene Redfield Remembered”: Making It New in Nella Larsen’s Passing – M. Giulia Fabi
    • Between Fiction and Reality: Passing for Non- Jewish in Multicultural American Fiction – Ohad Reznick
    • Experiments in Passing: Racial Passing in George Schuyler’s Black No More and Arthur Miller’s Focus – Ochem G.l.a. Riesthuis
    • Passing to Disappearance: The Voice/ Body Dichotomy and the Problem of Identity in Richard Powers’s The Time of Our Singing (2004) – Anne-Catherine Bascoul
  • Part III: Memories of Racial Passing within and beyond the United States: Towards a Transnational Approach
    • “The Topsy-Turviness of Being in the Wrong Hemisphere” Transnationalizing the Racial Passing Narrative – Sinéad Moynihan
    • Passing, National Reconciliation and Adolescence in Beneath Clouds (Ivan Sen, 2002) and The Wooden Camera (Ntshaveni Wa Luruli, 2003) – Delphine David and Annael Le Poullennec
    • Transnational Gendered Subjectivity in Passing across the Black Atlantic: Nella Larsen’s Passing, Michelle Cliff ’s Free Enterprise and Zadie Smith’s Swing Time – Kerry-Jane Wallart
  • About the Authors/ Editors
  • Index
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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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T Book Club: A Discussion on “Passing”

Posted in Literary/Artistic Criticism, Live Events, Passing, United States, Videos, Women on 2021-03-08 03:02Z by Steven

T Book Club: A Discussion on “Passing”

T Magazine
The New York Times
2021-03-10, 00:00Z (2021-03-09, 19:00 EST; 2021-03-09, 16:00 PST)
This event begins at 2021-03-09, 19:00 Eastern Standard Time for viewers in North America.

Join T’s book club, which focuses on classic works of American literature, for a conversation on Nella Larsen’sPassing” led by the novelist Brit Bennett.

The third title selected for T Magazine’s book club, Nella Larsen’sPassing” (1929) tells the story of two old friends, both Black women, who reunite in 1920s Harlem, despite the fact that one of them is living as a white person. Critically acclaimed at the time of its publication, the novel captures the social anxieties that plagued America during the Great Migration and remains a resonant portrait of a fractured nation.

On March 9, watch a virtual discussion of the book, featuring the novelist Brit Bennett in conversation with T features director Thessaly La Force, that will address questions from readers. And, in the weeks leading up to the event, look for articles on “Passing” at tmagazine.com. We hope you’ll read along — and R.S.V.P. above.

For more information, click here.

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The Performance of Racial Passing

Posted in Articles, Communications/Media Studies, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2021-03-08 01:47Z by Steven

The Performance of Racial Passing

The New York Times Style Magazine
2021-03-02

Brit Bennett


The author Nella Larsen, photographed in 1934 by Carl Van Vechten. Carl Van Vechten, ©Van Vechten Trust, Courtesy of the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Yale University

Though Nella Larsen’s classic 1929 novel is understood to be a tragedy, it also exposes race to be something of a farce.

This article is part of T’s Book Club, a series of articles and events dedicated to classic works of American literature. Click here to R.S.V.P. to a virtual conversation, led by Brit Bennett, about “Passing,” to be held on March 9.

There’s a scene in the 1959 melodramatic film “Imitation of Life” that I have seen dozens of times, but it’s not the one you’re probably imagining: the climatic funeral scene where Sarah Jane Johnson, a young Black woman passing for white, flings herself onto the casket of the dark-skinned mother she has spent the entire film disowning. Instead, the scene that sticks with me is halfway into the movie, when Sarah Jane meets up with her white boyfriend, who has secretly discovered that she is Black. “Is your mother a nigger?” he sneers, before beating her in an alley.

I’m not proud to admit that in elementary school, my best friend and I used to watch this scene over and over again, not because we thought it was tragic, but because we found it funny. The frenetic music in the background, the melodramatic slaps, Sarah Jane’s slow crumple to the asphalt. We knew we were wrong to laugh, but we were too young to take much seriously, let alone a character like Sarah Jane, whom we found more pitiful than pitiable. We’d watched her mope through the whole movie about not wanting to be Black. Well, fine. Go see how she likes it over there.

In a strange way, the beating scene itself is almost structured like a joke. Part of the pleasure of a passing narrative is watching the passer fool her audience; in this scene, however, the audience is aware while the passer is not. Sarah Jane asks her boyfriend to run away together, the boyfriend pretends to consider it. He only has one question: Is it true? Sarah Jane laughs, unsuspecting. Is what true? But of course, we already know the punchline…

Read the entire article here.

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Understanding the Legacy of Nella Larsen’s Passing

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United States, Women on 2021-02-10 16:24Z by Steven

Understanding the Legacy of Nella Larsen’s Passing

The Mary Sue
2021-02-04

Princess Weekes, Assistant Editor

Right now on the Sundance circuit is the Rebecca Hall-directed film Passing, starring Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga. It is an adaptation of the Harlem Renaissance classic Passing by Nella Larsen. Embedded into the text is a rich powerful narrative about the Black American experience and the lengths people go to survive in America.

Nella Larsen was both in 1890s Chicago as the daughter of a mixed-race Afro-Caribbean man and a white Danish immigrant woman. Larsen didn’t grow up with her father and in 1891 the Great Migration hasn’t happened yet, so the Black population was less than 2%. After her mother remarried, they moved to a mostly white neighborhood filled with German and Scandinavian immigrants. As a result, Larsen did not grow up in the usual world of Black Americanness. Or Blackness period…

…While it would be easy to dismiss Passing as a typical “tragical mulatto” story, I have always felt that it was more Larsen reflecting on the ultimate tragedy of those who have passed.

In A Chosen Exile: A History of Racial Passing in American Life by Allyson Hobbs, the author explains that this is a narrative of loss. “I started to realize that writing this history of passing is really writing a history of loss,” Hobbs told NPR….

Read the article here.

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‘Passing’ Stars Talk Rebecca Hall’s Directorial Debut and the Complexity of Racial identity

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, Passing, United States, Women on 2021-02-02 04:05Z by Steven

‘Passing’ Stars Talk Rebecca Hall’s Directorial Debut and the Complexity of Racial identity

Variety
2021-02-01

Angelique Jackson

Rebecca Hall’s feature directorial debut “Passing” dives into the nuance of racial identity and the complex realities of racial passing, with Variety’s Sundance review touting Hall’s work: “This radically intimate exploration of the desperately fraught concept of ‘passing’ — being Black but pretending to be white — ought to be too ambitious for a first-time filmmaker, but Hall’s touch is unerring, deceptively delicate, quiet and immaculate.”

Intimate is a particularly choice word to describe the project, as the film’s story holds personal significance for all its cast — including stars Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga, both of whom are mixed race — but the project is particularly connected to Hall’s personal story. Hall is the daughter of famed theater director Peter Hall and legendary opera singer Maria Ewing. And though the British actor presents as white, Hall in fact comes from a mixed-race background, with a generational history of passing on her maternal grandfather’s side.

“I don’t think that I really had language for passing. It was such a difficult area of conversation in my family,” Hall recalls, explaining her personal connection to the material in conversation at the Variety Sundance Studio presented by AT&T TV, just hours ahead of the film’s Sundance premiere…

Read the article and watch the video here.

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