By: Lana K. Wilson-Combs
There have been several movies made and books written about light-skinned Black Americans choosing to “pass” as white. Most notably, the 1934 film “Imitation of Life,” Dr. Gail Lukasik’s novel, “White Like Her: My Family’s Story of Race and Racial Passing,” Bliss Broyard’s “One Drop: My Father’s Hidden Life—A Story of Race and Family Secrets” and Harlem Renaissance novelist Nella Larson’s “Passing” which has now been adapted to the big screen.
“Passing,” which takes place in Harlem, New York during the 1920s, is an outstanding movie about race, society, and class from first time director/screenwriter Rebecca Hall (“Godzilla vs. Kong”).
There were many reasons Black people opted to pass as white, which was common even before the 19th Century. One of the biggest reasons was to gain economic and financial stability and maintain a “place” in society for their families.
“Passing,” is beautifully captured in black and white and tells the story of two women, Irene Redfield (a phenomenal Tessa Thompson, “Sylvie’s Love” and “Creed III”) and Clare Bellew (the sensational Ruth Negga, “Loving”). They have been childhood friends but haven’t seen each other for years. They run into each other at a hotel and over coffee catch up about old times.
Clare (Negga) is a striking and elegant woman who seems to be enjoying life to the fullest but looks are deceiving. She’s married to a white business mogul named John (Alexander Skarsgard, "Godzilla vs. Kong" and TV's "Succession") who is a racist to the core, yet he is unaware that his wife is a black woman passing as white.
That Clare has chosen to sever ties to her black heritage stuns Irene who is just as light-skinned as Clare, but Irene has embraced her blackness. Irene is also happily married to a black doctor (Andre Holland, “A Wrinkle in Time”).
The more Clare shares her personal struggles, to Irene, it’s apparent that Clare is deeply tormented by her “taboo” life choice and it drives her to the edge and tears their relationship apart.
“Passing” is a fascinating and masterful movie. I'll say this. If Tessa Thompson’s performance in last year’s romantic drama “Sylvie’s Love” and Ruth’s in the 2016 movie “Loving” didn’t convince you that they are amazing actresses, “Passing” should.
is currently streaming on Netflix.
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Watch This Trailer For "PASSING"
Lana K. Wilson-Combs is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA), The Black Film Critics Circle (BFCC), The American Film Institute (AFI), and a Nominating Committee Voting Member for the NAACP Image Awards.