‘Passing’ filmmaker Rebecca Hall embraces black-and-white photography and Jazz Age details for a powerful tale of diversity, race, and womanhood.

Themes of diversity, race, and womanhood power filmmaker Rebecca Hall’s Jazz Age drama ‘Passing.’

Ruth Negga (left) and Tessa Thompson star in director Rebecca Hall’s ‘Passing.’ Photo courtesy of Netflix.

A classic story from Harlem Renaissance writer Nella Larsen finds new life and relevance with 21st-century moviegoers thanks to the artistry of filmmaker and actress Rebecca Hall

Passing, which premiered at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival, tells the story of childhood friends Clare Kendry (Ruth Negga) and Irene Redfield (Tessa Thompson) reuniting by chance in New York City’s Harlem neighborhood in the 1920s. Clare and Irene are light-skinned black women experiencing first-hand the uncomfortable benefits of passersby seeing them as “European.” Clare lifts her racial passing to a dangerous level by deceiving her racist husband (Alexander Skarsgard) about her true self. It’s a decision that comes at a devastating price. 

Leads Ruth Negga (Ad Astra) and Tessa Thompson (Thor: Ragnorak) appear in just about every scene in Passing and lift the movie on their rich, subtle performances. 

There are potent themes throughout Larsen’s story: race, diversity, inclusion, womanhood. Yet, Negga and Thompson never allow the story to dissolve in soapy melodrama like Douglas Sirk’s 1959 movie Imitation of Life or 1934 original starring Claudette Colbert. Negga and Thompson portray Clare and Irene as two women fully aware of the racism in their lives, even in a tolerant community like Harlem. They’re proactive and willing to take risks to have happier lives.

Rebecca Hall, an actress with a diverse filmography from Vicky Cristina Barcelona to The Night House, shows exceptional filmmaking artistry via Passing. Beautiful black-and-white photography by cameraman Eduard Grau, a lush musical score from Devonté Hynes, and stunning period production design by Nora Mendis come together for one of the more stunning art movies you’ll see and hear this year. 

Hall is vocal about her perseverance to make Passing in black-and-white. Her belief in her vision adapting Larsen’s story pays off in a timeless tale of timely themes of equality, gender, and race. Let’s hope movie lovers don’t have to wait as long for Hall’s sophomore directing effort. 

DirectorRebecca Hall 

Production Company: AUM Group

Distributor: Netflix 

Rated: PG-13

Release Date: November 10, 2021

Behind the Curtain: Filmmaker Rebecca Hall spoke with Glenn Kiser, Director, Dolby Institute, at the Sundance Film Festival about her vision for Passing. 

‘It’s like taste. I don’t know why I like one thing over another thing. I knew how I wanted it (‘Passing’) to feel. I knew how I always wanted it to look. I started working on the first draft 15 years ago. If you trust something, you make something that’s yours.’ – Rebecca Hall, Director, Passing.

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