Screening Room: ‘Passing’

One of the more surprisingly subtle movies at Sundance Film Festival this year was Rebecca Hall’s adaptation of Passing, the lauded Harlem Renaissance novel by Nella Larsen.

Passing is currently seeking distribution and should open in theaters or stream later this year. My review is at Slant:

Irene (Tessa Thompson) is a black Harlem homemaker who gets more than she bargained for when she tries to pass for white. Walking into a grand hotel that wouldn’t serve her if any of the staff identified her as black, she sits down for a civilized tea only to catch the eye of Clare (Ruth Negga), a childhood friend who’s been passing for many years, married to a white husband who doesn’t realize she’s black. They share confidences but keep their guard up, like rival spies in enemy territory feeling the other out. When the two run into Clare’s husband, John (Alexander Skarsgård), he makes his opinions clear with a racial epithet, leading to a charged moment in which it seems that Irene might let Clare’s secret slip, just to spite him…

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