Passing | Nella Larson | BUY BOOK
Review by Manohla Dargis | New York Times | November 11th, 2021
Irene Redfield, the restless heart of Rebecca Hall’s piercing drama “Passing,” has a beautiful dream of a life. She also has a handsome husband who’s a doctor, a pair of well-behaved children, an elegant townhouse and a maid to help keep the domestic churn in check. She has good friends and meaningful charity work. Her figure is trim and graceful; her lovely face serene and unlined. Everything is as it should be, or so Irene believes. She doesn’t know that her idyll is as fragile as a soap bubble, and that this glistening, quivering fantasy she has created needs just one touch to vanish.
Set in the 1920s, “Passing” tells what happens to Irene (Tessa Thompson) when a childhood friend, Clare (Ruth Negga), enters that dream, disturbing its peace and threatening its careful illusions. Like Irene, Clare is a light-skinned African American living in Jim Crow America. Unlike Irene, Clare is living as white: “passing.” Orphaned after her father’s death and put into the care of white relatives who treated her like the help, Clare vanished. Years later, she has re-emerged with a wealthy white husband, John (Alexander Skarsgard), who’s oblivious to her history. He also — as he tells the startled Irene as Clare watches — hates Black people, unaware that he’s speaking to one… Continued
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Soon to be a major motion picture starring Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga, Nella Larsen’s powerful, thrilling, and tragic tale about the fluidity of racial identity that continues to resonate today.
Clare Kendry is living on the edge. Light-skinned, elegant, and ambitious, she is married to a racist white man unaware of her African American heritage, and has severed all ties to her past after deciding to pass as a white woman. Clare’s childhood friend, Irene Redfield, just as light-skinned, has chosen to remain within the African American community, and is simultaneously allured and repelled by Clare’s risky decision to engage in racial masquerade for personal and societal gain. After frequenting African American-centric gatherings together in Harlem, Clare’s interest in Irene turns into a homoerotic longing for Irene’s black identity that she abandoned and can never embrace again, and she is forced to grapple with her decision to pass for white in a way that is both tragic and telling. First published in 1929, Passing feels just as timely as ever today.