Rebecca Hall’s acclaimed movie and directorial debut, Passing, is streaming Netflix as of Nov. 10, starring Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga.
Passing, adapted from the 1929 novel of the same name by Nella Larsen, tells the story of two Black women, Irene Redfield (Thompson) and Clare Kendry (Negga), childhood friends who can pass as white but, unlike Irene, Clare has spent her adult like living as a white woman, with a white husband who has no idea she is Black.
After receiving praise for her film, initially at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival, Hall balances this delicate, fragile, dream-like aesthetic of the movie with the devastating story of the complexity of identity in a racist society. The real tragedy is society, our real society, not accepting Clare as her true self.
The relationship between Irene and Clare is executed beautifully by Thompson and Negga, it’s a tender and gentle relationship, filled with nuance, and the 4:3 aspect ratio makes you feel very close, in proximity, to these women through this emotional journey.
Filmed in black and white, Passing is a film noir fantasy, which Hall has said was done intentionally for this film because “the best way to make a movie about colourism was to take all the colour out of it.”
Honouring family history
While the director made her mark as an actress in movies like Christine, Godzilla vs. Kong and Vicky Cristina Barcelona, she had always thought about directing films as well.
Hall read the novel by Larsen more than a decade ago and felt a personal connection to the story.
“There had always been vague talk about my grandfather being Black, and passing for white although it was never framed that way,” Hall said in a statement about the movie. “It was made clear that yes, my grandfather was Black, and was white passing most of his life, furthermore it is quite possible that both his parents were also white passing.”
"In the end, I decided that I needed to make this film both because of where I come from as a filmmaker, and also because making this film is my way of reaching back into my own family with compassion, generosity and love towards those who formed their identities in a world that feared and despised them."
In an op-ed she wrote for Vogue, Hall indicated that a core question she hopes everyone considers when they watch Passing is - “What is the emotional legacy of a life lived in hiding?”
“I cannot choose how I present, but I can choose to honour my family’s history, and I hope that, with this film, I have begun to do so,” Hall wrote.