The Burdened Virtue of Racial Passing

Posted in Articles, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, Philosophy, Politics/Public Policy, United States on 2022-05-16 19:38Z by Steven

The Burdened Virtue of Racial Passing

The Boston Review

Meena Krishnamurthy, Assistant Professor of Philosophy
Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada

A still from Rebecca Hall’s film Passing, based on the 1929 novel by Nella Larsen. Image: Netflix

Though a means of escaping and undermining racial injustice, the practice comes with own set of costs and sacrifices.

In Nella Larsen’s 1929 novel Passing, adapted by Rebecca Hall and distributed on Netfli­x last fall, Clare Kendry—a light-skinned Black woman—decides to pass as white. Clare grows up poor in Chicago; after her alcoholic father dies, she is taken in by her racist white aunts. When she turns eighteen she marries a rich white man who assumes she is white. Clare makes a clean escape until, some years later, she runs into her childhood friend, Irene Redfield, at a whites-only hotel; Irene, it turns out, sometimes passes herself, in this case to escape the summer heat. The storyline traces their complex relationship after this reunion and ends in tragedy for Clare.

Hall’s film adaptation joins several other recent representations that dramatize the lived experience of passing. The protagonist of Brit Bennett’s best-selling novel The Vanishing Half (2020), for example, decides to start passing as white in the 1950s at age sixteen after responding to a listing in the newspaper for secretarial work in a New Orleans department store. Much to her surprise, after excelling at the typing test, Stella is offered the position; her boss assumes she is white. Initially Stella keeps up the ruse just to support her and her sister, but passing also becomes a way for her to escape the trauma of her father’s lynching and the prospect of her own…

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Stories of racial passing, from the pages of Nella Larsen to Detroit’s upper class

Posted in Articles, Audio, Media Archive, Passing, United States, Women on 2022-03-31 22:52Z by Steven

Stories of racial passing, from the pages of Nella Larsen to Detroit’s upper class

Michigan Radio

“Still’s Underground Rail Road Records,” 1886  /Boston African American National Historic Site

To escape slavery in Georgia, light-skinned Ellen Craft and her dark-skinned husband William posed, respectively, as a white gentleman traveling with his enslaved manservant in 1848.

Elsie Roxborough was born in 1914 in Detroit to one of Michigan’s most prominent Black families. When she died in New York City in 1949, her death certificate listed her race as white. She had lived there as a white woman for over a decade, working for a time as a model while aspiring to acclaim as a playwright.

“She almost immediately goes to New York City after graduation from the University of Michigan,” said Ken Coleman, a journalist who has researched the Roxborough family. Elsie Roxborough “at least professionally changed her name to Pat Rico at one point, and then ultimately, Mona Manet, and her brown, brownish-black hair becomes Lucille Ball auburn.”

Roxborough represents one of the few documented historical instances from Michigan of a Black person choosing to live nearly full-time as a member of white society. This phenomenon, known as racial passing, has received renewed popular attention through recent artistic works like Rebecca Hall’s film adaptation of Nella Larsen’s 1929 novel Passing and Britt Bennett’s novel The Vanishing Half

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Notes On ‘Passing’

Posted in Articles, Autobiography, Book/Video Reviews, Family/Parenting, Media Archive, Passing, United States, Women on 2022-03-15 18:26Z by Steven

Notes On ‘Passing’


Rebecca Carroll

Ruth Negga (left) and Tessa Thompson in “Passing” | Photo Credit: Netflix

The upcoming drama, based on the 1929 novel, looks at the cultural self-alienation a black woman experiences when she attempts to gain the privileges that come with assuming a white identity.

When my light-skinned Black and mixed-race teenage son was little, I worried aloud to my best girlfriend about whether people would recognize him as Black—or whether, God forbid, he himself would decide to identify as even partially white. My girlfriend, who is also Black, would counter with, “Why would he want to be on that team? Seriously, have you seen that team?” Yes, I would say, all too much, for far too long. And we’d laugh, because it was funny-ish.

I was adopted by a white family and raised in a primarily white rural New England town. I then spent my life, well into adulthood, seeking out Blackness and trying to arrive at a place where I could feel unambiguous in my identity as a Black woman. My son opting to identify as white would have been the opposite of my journey. But as he grew older, I actually stopped worrying that he’d be taken as white—and became more worried that he’d be profiled by the police as Black. The irony…

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Rebecca Hall says directing ‘Passing’ helped ‘unlock’ Black family history

Posted in Articles, Arts, Biography, Media Archive, Passing, United States, Women on 2022-02-02 23:25Z by Steven

Rebecca Hall says directing ‘Passing’ helped ‘unlock’ Black family history


Mariel Turner, Senior Editor

Rebecca Hall attends The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures Opening Gala at The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures on September 25, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Amy Sussman/Getty Images)

“It really gave me an access point into the history of my family that otherwise would have remained hidden,” the first-time director says

Writing and directing Passing has given Rebecca Hall a host of things: critical acclaim, first-time directing experience and award season buzz. One thing she didn’t expect, however, is the deep dive into her family’s own history that the film spurred.

The 39-year-old actress-director told theGrio exclusively that reading the 1929 novel on which Passing is based, and directing the film itself, helped her to uncover her own family’s history of passing and white assimilation. Hall, the daughter of Detroit opera singer Maria Ewing and Royal Shakespeare Company founder Peter Hall, confirmed that her grandfather was Black and white-passing…

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‘Passing’ keeps its writing simple, asking viewers to lean in for greater understanding

Posted in Arts, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United States on 2022-01-21 02:00Z by Steven

‘Passing’ keeps its writing simple, asking viewers to lean in for greater understanding

The Los Angeles Times

Rebecca Hall

Adapting Nella Larsen’s slim novella took writer-director Rebecca Hall 13 years. “Ultimately, I did my best to build my script and my film, not so much out of language as out of small moments of behavior,” she says. (Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

My adaptation of Nella Larsen’s “Passing” had a slow birth, even by the often glacial standards of script development. When I started writing, I was an actress in my 20s with vague but fervent aspirations to one day direct. I wrote the first draft in 10 days, immediately after first reading the novel, in something of a fugue state. I was fascinated but also mystified by that fascination, and my first draft was crude and impractical. I didn’t think for a second that I would ever have the means or the courage to turn it into a film.

In retrospect, I probably could never have written it otherwise. Over the years, I tinkered, adjusting it radically and then minutely and then radically again until it became something of a piece of me — not so much a project or a process as a thing that I have lived in dialogue with for the better part of my adult life.

The main challenge of the adaptation revolved around the character of Irene. Contemporary reviewers often missed both Irene’s centrality and her fundamental unreliability. Clare, the object of Irene’s obsession, was frequently taken to be the main character, rather than one half of the extraordinary — and extraordinarily complicated — relationship that drives the action…

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Passing for Racial Democracy

Posted in Articles, Brazil, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Media Archive, Passing, Politics/Public Policy, United States on 2022-01-19 03:00Z by Steven

Passing for Racial Democracy

The Baffler

Stephanie Reist

Detail from A Redenção de Cam (Redemption of Ham), Modesto Brocos, 1895. | Museu Nacional de Belas Artes

The complexities of the color line in the U.S. and Brazil

A CENTRAL POINT OF TENSION between Irene Redfield (played by Tessa Thompson) and her husband Dr. Brian Redfield (André Holland) in Rebecca Hall’s Passing, based on the Nella Larsen novel of the same name, is whether their family should remain in the United States. While Irene can pass for white out of convenience, the same is not true of her darker sons and her husband, who routinely informs his children about lynchings and white violence. Irene disapproves of this talk, despite her work for the Negro Welfare League. In one pivotal scene, she drives her tired husband home after a long day of visiting patients, and the couple discuss going to South America, specifically mentioning Brazil. The issue returns when the couple fights over the consuming role that Clare (Ruth Negga)—who has chosen to pass as white to the point of marrying a bigoted white husband and having a daughter with him—exerts in their lives and marriage.

In Larsen’s novel, Brian’s longing for Brazil, which becomes conflated with what Irene perceives as his desire for the effervescent, delightfully dangerous Clare, is even more pronounced: Brazil is the one that got away, Brian’s lost hope for a society where he and other black members of the talented tenth could be judged by their merits, not lynched because they failed to stay in their place. Irene even implicitly sanctions an affair between her husband and Clare to assuage her guilt for denying her family the chance to be truly “happy, or free, or safe”—a state she laments as impossible when speaking to Clare about her choice not to pass…

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And the 2022 Oscar Nominees Should Be…

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, United States on 2022-01-18 02:18Z by Steven

And the 2022 Oscar Nominees Should Be…

The New York Times

Illustrations by Ben Denzer

If our chief critics Manohla Dargis and A.O. Scott had their way, these are the films and the people who would be up for Academy Awards.

  • Best Picture: Drive My Car, Passing, The Power of The Dog
  • Best Director: Jane Campion, The Power of the Dog; Rebecca Hall, Passing
  • Best Actress: Kristen Stewart, Spencer; Tessa Thompson, Passing
  • Best Supporting Actress: Ariana DeBose, West Side Story; Aunjanue Ellis, King Richard; Kathryn Hunter, The Tragedy of Macbeth; Toko Miura, Drive My Car; Ruth Negga, Passing
  • Best Adapted Screenplay: Drive My Car, Passing, The Power of The Dog

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Rebecca Hall’s Brief But Spectacular take on ‘Passing’ and racial identity

Posted in Articles, Arts, Autobiography, Biography, Interviews, Media Archive, Passing, United Kingdom, United States, Videos on 2022-01-13 14:53Z by Steven

Rebecca Hall’s Brief But Spectacular take on ‘Passing’ and racial identity

PBS Newshour

Melissa Williams

Rebecca Hall has been on-screen since age 10, but in her new film “Passing” she steps into the director role for the first time. It is based on a novel that was written in 1929 by Nella Lawson Larsen at the height of the Harlem Renaissance. Hall shares her Brief But Spectacular take on “Passing” and on her own racial identity as part of our arts and culture series, CANVAS.

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Maria Ewing, opera singer and ex-wife of Sir Peter Hall, dies aged 71

Posted in Articles, Arts, Biography, Media Archive, United States, Women on 2022-01-11 15:02Z by Steven

Maria Ewing, opera singer and ex-wife of Sir Peter Hall, dies aged 71

The Guardian
Associated Press

Maria Ewing and Sir Peter Hall in 1984. Photograph: Homer Sykes/Alamy

Ewing, also the mother of actor-director Rebecca Hall, died Sunday at her home in Detroit

Maria Ewing, a soprano and mezzo-soprano noted for intense performances who became the wife of director Sir Peter Hall and the mother of actor-director Rebecca Hall, has died at age 71.

Ewing died Sunday at her home in Detroit, spokeswoman Bryna Rifkin said Monday.

Born in Detroit to a Dutch mother and an African American father, Ewing was the youngest of four daughters.

“She was an extraordinarily gifted artist who by the sheer force of her talent and will catapulted herself to the most rarefied heights of the international opera world,” her family said in a statement…

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Hidden in the Genes

Posted in Biography, Health/Medicine/Genetics, History, Media Archive, Passing, United States, Videos on 2022-01-07 02:14Z by Steven

Hidden in the Genes

Finding Your Roots
Season 8, Episode 1
Aired: 2022-01-04

Henry Louis Gates Jr., Host and Alfonse Fletcher Jr. University Professor; Director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research
Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts

Henry Louis Gates, Jr. helps Rebecca Hall and Lee Daniels solve family mysteries through DNA detective work, illuminating both history and their own identities.

Watch the episode (00:52:11) here.

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