Passing is a debut film from actress turned director, Rebecca Hall, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival on January 30th, 2021. The film stars Tessa Thompson as Irene Redfield, an African-American woman struggling with racial discrimination living in a climate of unrest in the United States.
In the sweltering heat of New York City, Irene unexpectedly reconnects with Clare Bellew, a childhood friend with whom she had lost touch. Clare, who identifies as white, has transformed her appearance to match her new identity, leaving behind her African-American heritage. When Clare invites Irene to her hotel where she’s staying with her husband, everything takes a turn for the worse, unraveling Irene’s tight control over her thoughts and emotions.
Although Irene is somewhat taken aback by Clare’s transformation, she still accepts it silently, unable to fully understand its implications. Their reunion unlocks a side of Irene’s character battling inner turmoil, and she struggles to come to terms with the parameters of her own identity. As Irene becomes more intrigued by Clare’s new life and lifestyle, she becomes more and more entangled in Claire’s web of deception and obsession. Irene senses that something is off about her old friend, but she cannot identify what it is at first.
Irene’s sense of unease heightens when Clare follows her home one day. A few days later, Clare sends a letter that Irene is hesitant to read, causing her husband to read it and tell Irene that their old friend will be visiting again. The visit sets off a chain of events that changes everything for both women.
As Irene and Clare get reacquainted, tension builds between them, especially regarding Irene’s relationship with her husband Brian. The tension then leads to a series of conflicts that test their bond and threaten to reveal the true identities of both women. Irene feels conflicted because she is attracted to Clare’s new identity and lifestyle, yet her husband Brian disapproves of Clare’s presence.
Throughout the film, Irene’s conflicted feelings cause emotional turmoil that she struggles to control. As Clare’s obsession grows, Irene realizes how difficult it is to maintain a facade and the stress this can inflict. The film is a thought-provoking drama about the inevitable self-discovery journey one takes while navigating the challenges of existing within a multi-racial society.
Passing is a groundbreaking film that offers a nuanced and sensitive look at the complexities of racial identity, friendship, and human nature. It delves into the experiences of two African-American women who have sought to escape the harsh realities of racism by passing themselves off as white. The film’s monochromatic tones and 4:3 aspect ratio serve to highlight the emotive themes and deep-seated issues it explores. It is a powerful and necessary reminder of the destructive effects of racism on our collective psyche. Don’t miss this riveting drama with its trenchant insights into the human condition.