When one is part of a minority group, there are two obvious choices. The first one is to be who you are, regardless of what is being said about you. The second is to pretend to be someone else and fit in, otherwise known as passing.
Passing is the title of the new Netflix film. Based on a book written by Nella Larsen, it is set in New York City in the 1920s. Irene (Tessa Thompson) and Clare (Ruth Negga) were friends in high school. Both are biracial and have not seen each other for many years. Irene has embraced her identity as a woman of color while Clare is passing as Caucasian. Upon meeting Clare’s very white and very prejudiced husband John (Alexander Skarsgard), Irene is both curious and disgusted by her old pal’s life preference. For her part, Clare is drawn into Irene’s circle of mostly African-American friends (including Irene’s husband, Brian, played by Andre Holland). Unlike Clare, they have openly and proudly embraced their identities. She is forced to grapple with the self-applied mask of passing she has put on.
Written and directed by Rebecca Hall (who has been speaking to the press about her own biracial identity), this is a powerhouse of a film. Though both the book and the movie tell the story of two women who are both partially of African-American descent, I felt like understood them. I’ve often spoken on this blog about my own Jewish faith and identity. I could, if I wanted to, pass as someone of another faith or no faith at all. I’ve been asked quite a few times if I am of Irish ancestry due to my red hair.
At the end of the day, it is this decision we make that defines our lives. Do we not give a fuck and just be ourselves or do we submerge who we are to be accepted by others? It is a question that each of us must ask ourselves, knowing the outcome has to potential to have life-altering consequences.
Do I recommend it? absolutely.
Passing is available for streaming on Netflix.
P.S. I would not be surprised if Passing did well come award season.