(a film review by Mark R. Leeper)

In PASSING, two old friends meet; both are African-American, but Irene (Reenie, played by Tessa Thompson) is married to an African- American man and living in Harlem as an African-American. Clare (played by Ruth Negga) is married to a white man and "passing" as white--even her husband John, a vocal racist, does not know the truth. When John meets Reenie in the company of his wife, he obviously thinks Reenie is white. (This in spite of Reenie's skin color and facial structure, which would seem to have given him some pause. To the audience of the film, Reenie looks like an African- American passing as white.)

The film has crisp black and white photography like something out of classic "Life" magazines. Is this a bit of a pun, an attempt to evoke 1929, a way to make it easier to use lighting and/or make-up to emphasize or conceal race, or a bit of all of them? The director also uses camera angles, such as when Irene and Clare are climbing some stairs the director has them look down in the center of a spiral moving inwards, paralleling both their confinements imposed on them by a racist society.

This is, I believe, the first film about "passing" that is not written and directed entirely by white Americans. It is based on a work by an African-American writer (the book by Nella Larsen), and the writer/director Rebecca Hall has English, Dutch, and African- American origin. The three best-known films on this topic before this were IMITATION OF LIFE (1934 and 1959) and PINKY (1949).

Released on Netflix 11/10/21. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4), or 7/10.

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					Mark R. Leeper
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