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’ filmmaker Rebecca Hall shares the personal story behind her movie

Posted in Articles, Audio, Autobiography, Biography, Interviews, Media Archive, Passing, United Kingdom, United States, Women on 2021-12-03 02:32Z by Steven

‘Passing’ filmmaker Rebecca Hall shares the personal story behind her movie

Fresh Air
National Public Radio
2021-11-30

Terri Gross, Host

Rebecca Hall (right) works on the set of Passing with actors Ruth Negga (left) and Tessa Thompson.
Netflix

Actor/filmmaker Rebecca Hall had what she describes as a “real gasp” moment when she first read Nella Larsen’s 1929 novel Passing.

The book centers on two light-skinned African American women who run into each other after not having seen each other for many years. One of the women is an active member of Harlem’s Black community. The other is married to a white man and is passing as white.

Reading the story of these fictional women, Hall realized that her maternal grandfather had also passed as white.

“Suddenly, aspects of my family life that were tinged with so much mystery and obfuscation, there was a reason for that,” Hall says.

Hall’s mother, acclaimed opera singer Maria Ewing, also passed as white, though not necessarily by her own volition. Instead, Hall says, Ewing tended to “be whatever people chose to see” — which sometimes meant being described as “exotic” by members of the opera community.

Hall was so moved by Larsen’s novel that she drafted a script for a film adaptation — and then she put it away until she felt ready to do something with it. Now, 13 years later, her adaptation of Passing is available on Netflix

Read the entire interview here.

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Passing Is a Film About Race from the Black Gaze

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, Passing, United States, Women on 2021-12-02 17:39Z by Steven

Passing Is a Film About Race from the Black Gaze

Harper’s Bazaar
2021-11-11

Imani Perry, Hughes-Rogers Professor of African American Studies
Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey


Netflix

Rebecca Hall’s adaptation of Passing expertly uses the craft of cinema to explore race and colorism from a Black point of view, Imani Perry argues.

Nella Larsen’s 1929 novel, Passing, was part of a tradition. Writers, both Black and white, had been depicting the practice of extremely light-complexioned African Americans slipping into the white world for at least 70 years prior. Passing literature is the term critics have applied to it. In a racially segregated and stratified society, passing was powerful fodder for the literary imagination. Being discovered came with the risk of shame, violence, incarceration, and even death. In Black communities, passing itself was at once frowned upon and protected, as the secrets of passers were guarded.

Understandably, depicting passing today, when the rules of racial membership have shifted, is challenging. Members of Generation Z are skeptical of the historic “one-drop rule” of African-American membership. Initially, that rule was a way of marking Blackness as inferiority and even a sort of contagion. Over time, African Americans used it to develop an expansive idea of what it meant to belong to “the race.” But today, young people often wonder how much one can claim to belong to a group without carrying the weight of being seen as such.

Director Rebecca Hall, who adapted the 1929 novel for the screen nevertheless succeeds in making a film that brings contemporary viewers into the intimate realm of its Black women protagonists, both of whom “pass”; one completely, the other conditionally. Most impressively, Hall captures the tensions of passing in a manner that is effective in the 21st century. Whereas the novella is a masterpiece of sumptuous yet suggestive prose, the black-and-white film’s luxuriousness is found in texture, light, and gesture. Hall avoids a problem that all too often afflicts Black actors. When directors fail to shift light appropriately, bodies that are luminous too often are made muddy and shapeless. Hall’s effective light is not just visually satisfying; it is a narrative tool…

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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The Experiment Podcast: How Netflix’s Passing Upends a Hollywood Genre

Posted in Audio, Autobiography, Biography, Communications/Media Studies, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2021-11-23 20:27Z by Steven

The Experiment Podcast: How Netflix’s Passing Upends a Hollywood Genre

The Atlantic
2021-11-18

The American movie industry has a long, problematic history with stories about racial passing. But the actor-writer-director Rebecca Hall is trying to tell a new kind of story.

Hollywood has a long history of “passing movies”—films in which Black characters pass for white—usually starring white actors. Even as these films have attempted to depict the devastating effect of racism in America, they have trafficked in tired tropes about Blackness. But a new movie from the actor-writer-director Rebecca Hall takes the problematic conventions of this uniquely American genre and turns them on their head. Hall tells the story of how her movie came to life, and how making the film helped her grapple with her own family’s secrets around race and identity.

Listen to the podcast (00:31:41) here.

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My Complicated Relationship with Passing for White

Posted in Autobiography, Media Archive, Passing, Social Justice, United States, Videos on 2021-11-23 02:18Z by Steven

My Complicated Relationship with Passing for White

TruJuLo Media
2021-11-19

Fanshen Cox, Actor, Educator, Writer, Producer

This week I share my experience with the concept of passing for white as I watch the #Netflix film #Passing starring #TessaThompson and #RuthNegga and directed by #RebeccaHall. I share important books and history lessons I’ve learned as I shape my understanding of racism and the invention of #whiteness in the United States.

TruJuLo is a production company that uplifts stories that speak truth in pursuit of justice in service of LOVE. This Youtube channel is dedicated to teaching, learning, inspiring, spreading joy and navigating the challenges that BIPOC filmmakers experience in their filmmaking journeys.

I’m a Black, Jamaican, Cherokee, Blackfeet and Danish playwright, producer, executive producer, actor and development executive working in Hollywood. I spent 7 years traveling across the country presenting my one-woman show One Drop of Love and have worked as a producer and development executive at Ben Affleck and Matt Damon’s production company, Pearl Street Films, for 5 years. I’m also the co-author of the Inclusion Rider, along with Kalpana Kotagal and Color of Change. I’m here to share the lessons I’ve learned as a BIPOC, Global Majority Member filmmaker, storyteller, playwright and theatre producer.

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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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“What Is The Emotional Legacy Of A Life Lived In Hiding?” Rebecca Hall Honours Her Family’s History In Her New Film Passing

Posted in Articles, Autobiography, Biography, Media Archive, Passing, United Kingdom, United States on 2021-11-19 22:19Z by Steven

“What Is The Emotional Legacy Of A Life Lived In Hiding?” Rebecca Hall Honours Her Family’s History In Her New Film Passing

Vogue UK
2021-10-29

Rebecca Hall


Molly Cranna

For her directorial debut, the British actor brings to life the novel that helped unlock the meaning of her family’s heritage.

The elucidation of a family’s history, like the history of a nation, is never straightforward or simple. The truth is stated baldly and then denied, hedged or partially retracted. The same stories somehow become less and less clear with each repetition. Clarity is elusive, and perhaps its pursuit is even unkind – why probe something so delicate as the past? And when it comes to questions of race, what answers could ever be satisfying?

My mother, Maria Ewing, was born in Detroit in 1950. Her father worked as an engineer at McLouth Steel in the city, and was also an amateur painter and musician. It was in part his love of music that propelled her to leave home at 18 and, in an improbably rapid fashion, transform herself into an international opera star. My father, Peter Hall, was born in Suffolk, the child of the local stationmaster. He went on to found the Royal Shakespeare Company and forge his way as one of the most significant British theatre directors of the late 20th century. Both products of working-class backgrounds, my parents each became part of a global cultural elite, and both of them thoroughly reinvented themselves in order to do it.

Growing up with my mother – now the former Lady Hall – in the English countryside, there was always some mystery around her background. Within the opera community, she was spoken about as “exotic”. When I looked at my mother, I always, my whole life, thought she looked Black. But there was no factual basis for that, and it was a tricky subject. When I asked questions such as, “Your father, maybe he was African American? Was he Native American? Do you know anything?” she just couldn’t answer with any degree of certainty. Not wouldn’t – she couldn’t. She simply didn’t have any hard information. She knew that things were hidden, that she didn’t know any of his family members, that she just didn’t understand certain things. To an extent, I think she had accepted a degree of vagueness about her own identity. Maybe, for her, that vagueness, that mystery, was simply part of her lineage, something that she had no choice but to accept. And as someone who lived in circumstances that were quite distant from those she grew up in, maybe that vagueness was even useful, an infinitely pliable substance out of which to build a bridge between her old life and her new one…

Read the entire article here.

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What To Know About the Novel Passing Before Watching the Netflix Movie

Posted in Articles, Biography, Book/Video Reviews, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing on 2021-11-14 03:06Z by Steven

What To Know About the Novel Passing Before Watching the Netflix Movie

TIME
2021-11-12

Cady Lang

In Passing, the film adaptation of Nella Larsen’s seminal 1929 novel of the same name, two women reckon with who they are and how they identify. Although both are Black, they are light-skinned enough that they can “pass” for white. The film, which premiered at Sundance and hits Netflix this week, takes a nuanced approach to parsing out the complexities of race and its role in our lives—not just the construct of it, but the performance of it. Larsen’s novel centers on two childhood friends whose chance encounter as adults shifts not only how they see themselves, but how they view their places in the world, with dramatic consequences.

This complex friendship is the inspiration for Rebecca Hall’s film adaptation, which is also her directorial debut. Actors Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga play Irene and Clare, respectively, the two women whose reunion will upheave both their worlds and cause them to reconsider the lives they have chosen and the reasons behind those choices.

Here’s what to know about the Passing movie adaptation and the book it was based on…

Read the entire article here.

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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…

Read the entire article here.

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