Last Saturday, at the Martha’s Vineyard African American Film Festival, Rebecca Hall attended the screening of her provocative, directorial debut film, Passing. The film stars Tessa Thompson, Ruth Negga, André Holland, Alexander Skarsgård, and Bill Camp as they navigate through the long-lasting effects and legacy of colorism in America.
Participating in a conversion moderated by CEO of RogerEbert.com, President of the Ebert Foundation and executive producer Chaz Ebert who gave a glowing review of the film, Hall spoke about bringing Nella Larsen’s acclaimed novel to life on the big screen. She also spoke about being behind the camera as director for the first time, working with co-stars Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga, and how the film addresses gender roles, sexuality, motherhood, sexuality, and the performance of femininity.
According to the synopsis, the film “adapted from the celebrated 1929 novel of the same name by Nella Larsen, Passing tells the story of two Black women, Irene Redfield (Thompson) and Clare Kendry (Negga), who can “pass” as white but choose to live on opposite sides of the color line during the height of the Harlem Renaissance in late 1920s New York.”
After reuniting with a childhood friend, Irene begrudgingly allows Clare into her home, where she forges a bond with her husband (Holland) and her family, and becomes a fixture of Irene’s middle-class social circle. As their lives are once-again interlinked “Irene finds her once-steady existence upended by Clare, and Passing becomes a riveting examination of obsession, repression and the lies people tell themselves and others to protect their carefully constructed realities.”
Hall courageously explores the complexities of race as a social construction and the psychological toll that “passing” had on the daily lives of Black people. In an interview with Variety, Hall explained her personal connection to the theme of the film and the mixed-ancestry of her family.
“I don’t think that I really had language for passing. It was such a difficult area of conversation in my family,” Hall recalled.
“It was a question of, maybe my grandfather and maybe his parents [were Black], maybe this, maybe that, maybe it was something else, we don’t really know. It wasn’t framed as this choice,” she continued. “I don’t think I understood the truth of [passing] until I read the book. And then I had a context for it that made sense and slotted everything together in relation to all of the snippets of information I had about my family.”
Passing will be available for streaming on Netflix on November 10.