Passing movie black women harlem renaissance
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Rebecca Hall
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April 3, 2022
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Passing, a period drama exploring dichotomies

For her directorial debut, the actress Rebecca Hall brilliantly adapts Passing, Nella Larsen’s 1929 novel depicting the intricacies of race in America. Her film adaptation brings even more nuance to the table, with magnetism and honesty.

Released quietly at the beginning of 2021, Passing has since been offered by Netflix. An opportunity for us to not miss out on this gem, an important portrait of the United States during the Harlem Renaissance.

The movie portrays the opposite paths of two long-time friends, Irene and Clare. Both light skin black women, one has decided to pass for white while the other enjoys Harlem at its cultural boom. When Irene, perfectly played by our adored Tessa Thompson, encounters Clare, embodied by Ruth Negga, she does not recognize her at first. Clare is blonde, married to a racist white businessman and lives in New York City. Yet she desires to be among her people again, and soon meet up again with Irene in Harlem. Their paths intertwine, and subtlely evoke a wide range of subjects, from race to social class and from gender to sexuality.

Passing is set in the Harlem Renaissance, a period rich in history and culture and yet still underrepresented in cinema. It took place after the great black migration from the racist states of the south to the industrial metropolises of the north in the mid-1910s. The Harlem Renaissance was a golden age for African American artists, of which Nella Larsen was a figure. They could express their experience through art with pride, and build foundations for the civil rights movement.

Shot in black and white, Passing progresses at a slow pace with the weight of its undergoing tensions. The movie adaptation builds erotic subtext throughout its progression, highlighting an aspect that was already present in the original novel but not as thoroughly. Rebecca Hall didn’t want it to be too obvious to stay true to Nella Larsen’s work but still wanted the represent the attraction and desire Irene has for Clare, depicting even more nuances. A sincere and complex adaptation that you shouldn’t miss. Scroll down below to watch the trailer!


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