Rebecca Hall’s Directorial Debut “Passing” Explores Race, Power, and Belonging

Actress Rebecca Hall recently made her Directorial debut at the Sundance Film Festival with the film adaptation of Nella Larson’s “Passing.” When asked what was her motivation to make this film, she said it was because her grandfather was a passing Black man from Detroit.

“It was something in my family that was always known and not known — that my grandfather passed for white, and probably his parents were both African-American and passed for white also,” said Hall.

After several “evasive” conversations within the family about race, “I started to think about… how I present as this white-passing person, who has all of the privileges and am afforded that because of how I look,” she added.

This film brilliantly shows how much of themselves these women give up to pass as white people and the pain their passing causes. While passing, they live with the omnipresent fear of being discovered and the horrors of what could befall them should that happen. They also have to give a great deal of who they are to pass but not doing means living life being treated as sub-human. Which torment is worse.

It reminded me of another film I loved where one of the characters passed, “Imitation of Life.” When the Black mother is asked why doesn’t she try to correct her daughter when she tries to pass she says, “how do you explain to your child that she was born to suffer.”

Despite Hall being a A-list actress, Passing is not your typical Hollywood movie. It’s a cerebral film noire that makes you really reflect on what is race. Is it what you see? Is it the group to which you were born? Is it simple a label that conveys power. Or, is a signifier of something deeper, a place where you feel belonging.

Passing is a definite must see. It’s brilliantly made and entertaining. However, it’s also full of heart, and undoubtedly will give you lots of food for thought.

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