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‘Passing’ Review: Black Skin, White Masks

Rebecca Hall’s piercing drama stars Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga as old friends navigating the color line in 1920s New York.

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Ruth Negga, left, as Clare and Tessa Thompson as Irene in “Passing.”

By Manohla Dargis

Irene Redfield, the restless heart of Rebecca Hall’s piercing drama “Passing,” has a beautiful dream of a life. She also has a handsome husband who’s a doctor, a pair of well-behaved children, an elegant townhouse and a maid to help keep the domestic churn in check. She has good friends and meaningful charity work. Her figure is trim and graceful; her lovely face serene and unlined. Everything is as it should be, or so Irene believes. She doesn’t know that her idyll is as fragile as a soap bubble, and that this glistening, quivering fantasy she has created needs just one touch to vanish.

Set in the 1920s, “Passing” tells what happens to Irene (Tessa Thompson) when a childhood friend, Clare (Ruth Negga), enters that dream, disturbing its peace and threatening its careful illusions. Like Irene, Clare is a light-skinned African American living in Jim Crow America. Unlike Irene, Clare is living as white: “passing.” Orphaned after her father’s death and put into the care of white relatives who treated her like the help, Clare vanished. Years later, she has re-emerged with a wealthy white husband, John (Alexander Skarsgard), who’s oblivious to her history. He also — as he tells the startled Irene as Clare watches — hates Black people, unaware that he’s speaking to one.

Based on Nella Larsen’s brilliant 1929 novel, “Passing” is an anguished story of identity and belonging. Like the book, the movie centers on Irene, a bourgeois wife and mother who can’t grasp why she is so addled by Clare. The two meet again by accident, each having taken refuge from the blistering summer heat in the grand tearoom of a fashionable New York hotel. Irene enters the tearoom with palpable wariness, her gait slowed, head down and face partly obscured by the semitransparent brim of her cloche hat. There are no racially restrictive signs in the hotel; the restrictions are a given . Like Clare, Irene has transgressed. But then she goes home to Harlem.

Irene doesn’t recognize Clare at first, a confusion that reverberates throughout a story that hinges on appearances, racial and otherwise. Irene may be on her guard in the hotel, but the very fact that she enters the tearoom speaks to her self-confidence and to how she has learned to navigate the color line. Because, like Clare, Irene is also passing; unlike Clare, she is only briefly slipping into a masquerade. Irene compartmentalizes and rationalizes her act; she needs to cool down, the tearoom is a breezy refuge, if one she intentionally seeks out rather than merely happens upon. Yet by passing, however fleetingly, she also becomes Clare’s double.

Hall wrote and directed the movie, her feature debut, and has followed Larsen’s lead. The novel is told through Irene’s limited point of view, though it takes time to grasp the subtleties of her blinkered perspective (understanding their implications takes longer). Irene is a sympathetic, attractive, purposely opaque character with a quick mind and tongue, a richness of character that Hall’s filmmaking and Thompson’s performance convey in exacting, illuminating detail. But there’s a stubborn rigidity to Irene’s self-assurance and how she engages her reality, and she is by turns surprised, baffled and angered that other people’s actions and desires don’t always conform to her own.

In sticking close to the novel, Hall has pulled scenes and lines from the book, but she also visually conveys how Irene sees and exists in her world, mapping the coordinates of a life and consciousness through the expressionistic lighting, through the many tonalities of the black-and-white visuals and through the elegant rooms that edge on dollhouse claustrophobia. It all looks so irresistible: Everything and everyone is lovely. There’s an ethereal quality to this picture (Irene’s, Hall’s) and Thompson gives her character a gestural delicacy and a suppleness of movement that at times makes it seem as if Irene is drifting along on a heavenly cloud. Yet, at other times, she seems to be sleepwalking.

The movie tracks Irene and Clare’s relationship over several seasons of falling leaves and snow, and then regenerative growth. The women go in and out of each other’s orbit amid parties and more informal get-togethers. When Clare disappears for a while, Irene comes into greater focus as does her brittle exasperation with her husband, Brian (André Holland), who wants to live abroad. Irene wants to stay put, though the contradictions of this resolve are evident in the charity work that she does for the (fictional) Negro Welfare League and by her insistence that Brian avoid talking about race in front of their sons. She reads about the fight for civil rights in The Crisis magazine while tucked into bed.

Larsen’s feelings about Irene are embedded in her narrative choices and in her chilled reserve, in the archness of her tone and in winding sentences that seem fairly benign until the final telling clause. Hall’s approach is warmer and less intellectually distancing. Onscreen, you like Irene right away, partly because there’s a human being (Tessa Thompson, no less) whose presence and persona instantly draw you to the character. But in little and big moments — in coyly and sharply delivered lines, in hesitant and abrupt movements — Hall and Thompson play with and subvert your sympathies, pushing you far enough away so that you can actually see, and become equally invested in, Clare too.

Thompson and Negga are both tremendous. Although Irene is the protagonist and the story is organized around her, the character’s complexities largely emerge in her relationship with Clare. The two reflect each other, but they’re in a hall of mirrors in which every pane presents a different image: Black, white, attentive wife, independent woman. Again and again, you watch these two characters discreetly or openly watching each other — Irene’s eyes are darting and demure, Clare’s searching and intense — creating a network of looks. And, as the story progresses, and as Irene continues on about her old friend’s attractiveness (“aren’t you lovely”), her gaze becomes persistent, troubled and erotic.

Hall fits an extraordinary amount into her version of this streamlined, deceptively simple story of two women whose lives intersect in ways they don’t or can’t fully grasp. Irene keeps looking at Clare, as if trying to solve a puzzle or as if she wanted something. But what does Irene desire? Clare’s beguiling beauty or her seductiveness, her wealth or her outward, presumably futile escape from the burdens of race? With restraint and bursts of plaintive emotion, Negga shows you how casually Clare receives attention — this is a woman accustomed to admiration — but she also shows you the performative quality of this blitheness, the moments when Clare drops whatever mask she’s wearing.

At one point early in the novel, Larsen writes of Irene: “She wished to find out about this hazardous business of ‘passing,’ this breaking away from all that was familiar and friendly to take one’s chance in another environment, not entirely strange, perhaps, but certainly not entirely friendly.” There is so much embedded in those last three words — not entirely friendly ! The mind reels, and the heart breaks, though, like Larsen, Hall maintains her cool. She bathes the movie in tenderness, but she remains faithful to the story’s brutal lack of sentimentality, which can make you gasp. Together with Thompson and Negga, Hall hauntingly brings to life characters forced to exist in that “not entirely friendly” space, with its cruelties, appearances, ambiguities and hard, merciless truths.

Passing Rated PG-13 for violence. Running time: 1 hour 38 minutes. Watch on Netflix.

Manohla Dargis has been the co-chief film critic since 2004. She started writing about movies professionally in 1987 while earning her M.A. in cinema studies at New York University, and her work has been anthologized in several books. More about Manohla Dargis

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As I watched writer/director Rebecca Hall ’s adaption of Nella Larsen ’s 1929 novella, Passing , I couldn’t stop thinking about the story in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” where “a colored man” named Eliza Cottor sold his soul to the Devil. The sale made him impervious to consequence, not just for big crimes like committing a murder, but also for small, self-assured gestures that would have certainly gotten his “uppity” ass lynched. August Wilson ’s metaphorical tangent struck me as ironic because, as I wrote in my review, “it seems the only way for a Black man to enjoy the same freedom as his White counterpart in the 1920s is to broker a deal with Beelzebub.” But I understood why Eliza Cottor made that arrangement. He surrendered his soul, but not his identity. In the former scenario, Hell awaits you when you die; in the latter scenario, chosen by this film’s free spirited Clare ( Ruth Negga ), Hell can be visited by the living.

Clare is a Black woman passing for White. She’s convincing enough to fool a lot of people, including John ( Alexander Skarsgård ), her vile, racist husband. Before we meet Clare, we follow her old high school classmate, Irene ( Tessa Thompson ) who, on this particular day, has decided to try her hand at fooling the masses. She nervously enters a White dining establishment and takes a seat. Hall’s camera, emboldened by Eduard Grau ’s stunning black-and-white cinematography, casts a lengthy gaze at Irene’s face under the hat she’s pulled down low enough to arouse suspicion. This beautiful close-up immediately sent my brain to its Blackest depths. “Gurl, there’s no way you’re fooling anybody!” I thought. “Not with  that  nose and mouth!” I started to think about Billy Wilder ’s choice to shoot “ Some Like It Hot ” in black and white so as to mute the fact that Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis are some very unconvincing women.

My temporary disbelief was suspended by a major jolt of reality: Unlike the waiters and patrons surrounding Irene,  I know what to look for  when it comes to recognizing my own people. Some of these “how to notice your Negro” tips I’ve read by Jim Crow-loving idiots weren’t even close to accurate. So I was gripped by suspense during this scene. Hall’s camera takes Irene’s point of view, darting around and quickly noticing Clare. Then the viewfinder rests on her for an uncomfortable amount of time. We sense a possible familiarity between the two, but the uncertainty of the moment hangs in the air.

Clare initiates their meeting, and the two share old memories and their current secret pastime. She’s in New York City as her husband conducts business. Clare peppers the conversation with news and gossip from their hometown. During the chat, Irene mentions her husband, Brian (a superbly understated André Holland ) and the two sons she shares a house with in Harlem. Going one better than a verbal description, John is formally introduced when he interrupts the two friends’ reunion. Thinking Irene is White, and someone who agrees with his worldview, John drops his guard the way people like him always do when they think they’re amongst friends.

What follows is one of Thompson’s best scenes in the film. The horrific dialogue on the surface may distract from what she’s doing, so focus on how swiftly she manages to keep herself in check as her body language almost betrays her. John mentions how much he hates Black people, which we expect. Then he points out that Clare also hates them, but has “been getting darker and darker every year we’ve been together.” This worrisome feature earns her the nickname “Nig,” which John sees as both a term of mockery and endearment. The second syllable of her nickname is implied, and you know damn well it’s with a hard R. Thompson and Negga play this scene as a duet of dueling but equally subtle reactions. For a moment, it appears Irene may out Clare to her boorish man, and the tension Hall and her actors generate is as white-knuckle as any action chase scene.

Though Irene wants nothing to do with Clare after this, she’s cordial when Clare shows up at her doorstep unannounced. Their friendship is rekindled, partially out of curiosity and perhaps more than a bit out of guilt. Without sacrificing her Blackness, Irene lives a rather bougie life in her brownstone. But she’s practically a prude compared to the flapper-like exuberance Clare reveals once she’s able to sneak back to the cookout. During these social gatherings for the Negro Welfare League, Clare is a constant source of fascination, from the Black men who fawn over her light-skinned beauty to a snooty White writer, Hugh ( Bill Camp ), who’s supposed to be an ally but comes off as someone observing Black folks as if he were watching a National Geographic special. When Hugh asks why Clare would go to a dance in Harlem after she’s technically “escaped” her Black existence, Irene responds that she’s there “for the same reason you are. To see Negroes.”

“To see Negroes.” It’s a good line, a well-observed comeback that has sharper teeth than its humorous delivery implies. One is inclined to meditate on how much Clare longs to be amongst her people again, and how her temporary happiness throws Irene’s disposition off-kilter. Things get worse when it appears Brian may have more than a friendly interest in this enigma who wants to have her Black and Whiteness too. And Clare is an enigma, which was my initial problem with “Passing.” As good as Negga is, she’s mostly left to our own devices of interpretation. This bothered me until I realized that Irene is our stand-in. We know as much as she does. As she tries to figure Clare out, and reconcile her own feelings, we’re doing the same.

Hall, Grau, editor Sabine Hoffman , and composer Devonté Hynes do an excellent job of casting a hypnotic spell on the audience. This is a deliberately paced film with enveloping moods that feel like symphony movements. There’s heavy material here, but “Passing” doesn’t belabor its points. When Brian rightfully tries to warn his sons about the racist trouble they’ll face in the world, Irene argues that they should have some innocence in their youth. We understand both arguments even though we know one of them is very, very naïve. The entire film exists in this perpetual state of a deceptively gentle push and pull. It’s a masterful balance of tone. And even though we anticipate the ending, it comes with a surprising amount of empathy and sadness, two things that were always subtly present during the runtime.

“Passing” put me in a very thoughtful mode of allusion and pattern-gathering. On a parallel track, my mind went to other features, from Douglas Sirk ’s “Imitation of Life,” my third favorite movie of all time, to “Watermelon Man,” which is a directly opposite story. The one connection that, like “Ma Rainey,” I couldn’t shake was, of all things, Spike Lee's “ BlacKkKlansman .” Adam Driver ’s character has to pass for a White character played by a very Black John David Washington , and in doing so, he navigates an anti-Semitic and hateful world that would kill him if his Jewishness were revealed. He has it a lot easier than Clare does here, but Lee allows us to navigate his torment. I imagined a similar agony befell Clare in those moments when we don’t see her, when she’s alone with her demons.

My pensive mood eventually led me to my old church-going days, and Matthew 16:26, which says  “For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?”  That kind of sums things up here, but to be honest, I wonder just how little worry I’d have about my soul if I got what I wanted in this life. I don’t think I could give up who I was, though. Like I said, that would be some kind of living Hell.

In limited theatrical release today before premiering on Netflix on November 10th.

Note: Site Publisher Chaz Ebert is an executive producer on this film. She had no influence over this review. 

Odie Henderson

Odie Henderson

Odie "Odienator" Henderson has spent over 33 years working in Information Technology. He runs the blogs Big Media Vandalism and Tales of Odienary Madness. Read his answers to our Movie Love Questionnaire  here .

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Passing movie poster

Passing (2021)

Rated PG-13 for thematic material, some racial slurs and smoking.

Tessa Thompson as Irene Redfield

Ruth Negga as Clare Kendry

André Holland as Brian Redfield

Alexander Skarsgård as John

Bill Camp as Hugh

Gbenga Akinnagbe as Dave

Antoinette Crowe-Legacy as Felise

  • Rebecca Hall

Writer (novel)

  • Nella Larsen


  • Eduard Grau
  • Sabine Hoffman
  • Devonté Hynes

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2010, Drama, 12m

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Passing   photos.

A woman makes her final journey with her husband across their land.

Genre: Drama

Original Language: English

Director: David Freyne

Writer: David Freyne

Runtime: 12m

Cast & Crew

Maire Hastings

David Freyne

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Review: Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga illuminate the beautifully complex drama of ‘Passing’

Ruth Negga, left, and Tessa Thompson in the movie "Passing."

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The closing shot of “Passing,” Rebecca Hall’s sleek and transfixing adaptation of Nella Larsen’s 1929 novel, peers down from a great height at a courtyard on a cold December night, a vision partially obscured by falling snow and set to the graceful tinkling of piano chords. The image — composed by Eduard Grau in a nearly square frame and a black-and-white palette — has a hushed, frozen-in-time loveliness that feels faintly unreal. You almost expect the camera to pull back and reveal that this piercingly sad story has been unfolding inside a snow globe, trapping its characters in exquisite clothes, repetitive motions and the slow-shifting mores of a society that has left them scant room to breathe.

That society is 1920s New York, a world that Larsen rendered in deft, economical strokes but which emerges here in a blur of cloche hats and flapper dresses, and also in the blasts of jazz and snatches of gossip swirling around a crowded dance floor.

Against this backdrop — stylishly rendered by the production designer Nora Mendis and the costume designer Marci Rodgers — Irene Redfield (Tessa Thompson) and her doctor husband, Brian (André Holland), are the very picture of Black upper-middle-class propriety. They have two young sons, a stately Harlem brownstone and a stable marriage, though not too stable to be knocked off-balance by Clare Bellew (Ruth Negga), an old friend whose sudden reappearance in Irene’s life dredges up long-hidden anxieties and closely guarded secrets.

The most obvious of these secrets, at least to the audience, is kept by Clare herself, a Black woman who for years has been passing as white. So convincing is this particular imitation of life that when they reunite by chance on a sweltering hot day, Irene doesn’t even recognize Clare, and not just because of her striking blond bob. It has more to do with the dazzling effrontery of her manner — the confidence in her gaze, the notes of Hollywood diva and Southern belle in her voice — as she firmly seizes Irene’s attention and insists that they see each other again soon. It’s not exactly the behavior of someone with something to hide. Or maybe it’s absolutely the behavior of someone with something to hide, knowing the most brazen deceptions are often the most persuasive.

André Holland and Tessa Thompson in the movie "Passing."

Clare likes to play with fire: She’s concealing the truth from John (Alexander Skarsgård), her very rich, very racist husband and the father of their young daughter (who, to Clare’s relief, was born as light-skinned as she is). But regardless of her fear of exposure, she also longs to recover a sense of kinship, of regular communion with Black women and men like those she grew up with — something that Irene, a pillar of her community, is able yet reluctant to provide. A more obvious (though not necessarily less interesting) version of this story might have sympathetically centered on Clare, perhaps with an eye toward rebuking the “tragic mulatto” stereotypes indulged by the once-popular Hollywood subgenre of passing narratives (many of which, like “Pinky,” “Show Boat” and “I Passed for White,” cast white actors as mixed-race heroines).

But “Passing,” a Netflix-acquired standout of this year’s Sundance Film Festival, has something subtler and more complicated in mind. Hall, closely following Larsen’s text, seems less intrigued by Clare’s motives than by the contradictory feelings they awaken in Irene — a mix of irritation, pity, envy and inescapable curiosity that Thompson illuminates with breathtaking precision. For Irene, Clare’s longing for Black companionship smacks of a kind of twisted exoticism fetish, something Irene muses about with her famous novelist friend, Hugh (a typically strong Bill Camp), in scenes that sparkle with cheeky, conspiratorial wit. At the same time, Irene can’t help but begrudgingly admire and even envy Clare’s self-made status, even if it’s predicated on a troubling and surely unsustainable lie.

But then perhaps that status is, as Clare describes it, “entirely worth the price.” And Irene may agree more than she lets on. She’s no stranger herself to the social advantages of perceived whiteness, as we see in the opening scenes of her shopping for her children and enjoying an afternoon tea, each time scanning the room with a carefully lowered gaze to see if the white clientele take any notice of her (they don’t). And those advantages seem to loom ever larger as she and Clare rekindle their friendship over the next several months. You see Irene’s privilege in the authority she casually wields over her darker-complexioned housemaid, Zulena (Ashley Ware Jenkins), and also in her clashes with Brian (a strong, nuanced Holland), who insists, to her chagrin, on teaching their sons the harsh truths of being a Black man in America.

Clare’s regular presence in the Redfield household has a way of both soothing and inflaming those tensions, and Negga invests her with an elfin glamour that seduces everyone in her orbit, the audience included. At times “Passing” takes on the quality of an infidelity drama in which no infidelity is actually committed and you’re not entirely sure who the potential participants are, given Clare and Brian’s mutual affection and the subtler sparks that occasionally ignite between Clare and Irene. The two women attract and repel each other like emotional magnets; it’s as if their contrasting life decisions have made them soul mates.

Ruth Negga and Alexander Skarsgård in the movie "Passing."

Hall, who’s spoken of her own experience as a white-presenting woman of mixed-race ancestry, is as in sync with her two leads as you might expect from an actor of her caliber. (“Passing” is her feature writing-directing debut.) She picks up on their contrasting energies, the way Negga eagerly draws the camera’s gaze while Thompson quietly deflects it. But what’s most striking about Hall’s direction is her visual acuity, her gift for composing images that are gorgeous, disorienting and strangely intuitive. She’ll give us isolated closeups of tense little domestic details — a teapot clutched in both hands, a crack running along a bedroom ceiling — but then pull back to show Irene and Clare strolling freely down an uncrowded street in Harlem. (Their challenges are real, but their decisions, she implies, are theirs.) She’s also fond of blurring the focus in the background of a shot, as if to suggest the limitations of perception.

And those limitations may affect the unsuspecting viewer as well. “We’re all of us passing for something or other, aren’t we?” Irene wonders in one of the script’s few nudge-nudge lines, though it does raise the intriguing possibility that “Passing” might itself be passing for something else. You start to wonder if the movie’s ostensible subject, the complexities and contradictions of racial identity, might in fact be something of a smokescreen — a provocative point of entry into a story rippling with more generalized undercurrents of jealousy, fear and discontent.

The idea is fascinatingly underlined by Grau’s monochrome images, in which stark black-and-white differences are both the whole point and somehow beside the point. “Passing” ends with the shock and sorrow that have been foreshadowed from the beginning, but also with a kind of puzzlement, a sense of disquiet. It’s a beautifully chiseled vision of an uglier world, an artifact of a vanished reality that you’re grateful — and yet strangely reluctant — to leave behind.


Rating: PG-13, for thematic material, some racial slurs and smoking Running time: 1 hour, 38 minutes Playing: Starts Oct. 27 at Laemmle Playhouse 7, Pasadena; Los Feliz Theater, Los Feliz; the Landmark, West Los Angeles; Cinépolis Luxury Cinemas, Los Angeles; also available Nov. 10 on Netflix

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Justin Chang has been a film critic for the Los Angeles Times since 2016. He is the author of the book “FilmCraft: Editing” and serves as chair of the National Society of Film Critics and secretary of the Los Angeles Film Critics Assn.

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This marks the third installment of the popular spy franchise 'Tiger' by Yash Raj Films. Expectations for this film are particularly high, given the success of the same banner's blockbuster "Pathaan," which still resonates in the minds of the audience.

Let's explore the details to uncover what this film has to offer.

Story: Tiger (Salman Khan) gets a job to go to Russia and rescue an important person. There, at St Petersberg in Russian, he finds out that Zoya is supposed to kill that person. 

Tiger saves him and talks to Zoya (Katrina Kaif). She explains that Aatish Rehman (Emraan Hashmi), a former ISI agent, made her do the mission by holding Junior hostage. 

Aatish makes Tiger and Zoya do another job in Istanbul, but they get framed as traitors by their own countries. 

Because of this, Tiger and Zoya go on a dangerous mission to get back at Aatish and stop him from ruining Pakistan and thus building peace between Pakistan and India. 

Artistes’ Performances: Salman Khan delivers his usual impeccable performance in his role. 

Katrina Kaif portrays a gripping character, blending toughness with sensitivity in certain scenes. Her much-anticipated 'towel fight' is well-received, though it's a brief moment.

Emraan Hashmi excels in his role, portraying the perfect villain with precise gestures and body language. 

Simran, as Prime Minister Nasreen Irani, meets the requirements of her character. For Telugu and Tamil audiences, seeing their favorite heroine from earlier times, reappear as the Prime Minister of Pakistan can be a delightful experience.

Revathy, in her role as the RAW Chief, fulfills her part effectively. 

The guest appearance of SRK elicit huge applause in the theater.

Technical Excellence: The movie shows strong technical expertise. The camera work and sound arrangement are top-notch. Tanuj Tiku's background music elevates many regular scenes, on par with that of Hollywood films. The set designs are well done. 

Highlights: Star Cast Action Sequences Production values

Drawback: Amateur making in parts Contrived scenes No tension moments  No haunting songs 

Analysis: The movie begins by emulating scenes from the previous James Bond series, incorporating all the anticipated high-voltage action sequences, gravity-defying stunts, and entertaining yet illogical fighting episodes. 

However, when the film demands a serious approach, it falls short.

A glaring example is the handling of the scenario where the Pakistani PM needs to be rescued; it is treated in a childish manner with excessive cinematic liberties, lacking conviction packed with contrived scenes.

Furthermore, the protagonist's character is designed to rely more on brawn than brains. 

The anticipated and enjoyable episode where Saha Rukh Khan comes to Salman Khan's aid is dealt with a lighter touch, aligning with the tone of Salman's guest role in "Pathaan". Yes, here Pathaan comes to Tiger's assistance.

While the theme of protecting the Pakistani PM Irani, reminiscent of Benazir Bhutto, is intriguing, the narrative fails to deliver a breathtaking storytelling experience. The potential for a gripping tale around foiling the assassination plan remains unrealized.

The concept of a RAW agent and ISI agent in love adds an interesting dimension, but the execution falls short, focusing more on capturing the attention of a teenage audience rather than crafting a mature script with edge-of-the-seat moments. 

The idea of RAW and ISI agents collectively working towards upkeeping the democracy in Pakistan is novel. 

Like a classified spying mission in the film named as 'Time Pass,' the film also lives up to the same title – a 'time pass' entertainer with no significant Diwali blasts or sparks.

Bottomline: No Loud Roar

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The new MoviePass is back ahead of Memorial Day weekend, but is it any good? What to know

review movie passing

— Recommendations are independently chosen by Reviewed’s editors. Purchases you make through the links below may earn us and our publishing partners a commission.  

Like the Phoenix rising from the ashes, MoviePass lives to fly another day, returning to 4,000+ theaters nationwide ahead of Memorial Day weekend. While still in beta, the new MoviePass subscription launched on Thursday, May 25 to the public in the United States.

This follows the original service’s shutdown in 2019 and the new iteration being tested in a limited market last year . With MoviePass' past defeat still fresh in the minds of many consumers, and with other streaming services pricier than ever , you may find yourself wondering if this new iteration is an improvement or if it's doomed to fail. Here’s what we know. 

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What is MoviePass?  

Originally launched in 2011, a MoviePass subscription allowed customers to watch a movie a day in theaters. Next to the likes of Netflix and the ability to binge-watch shows for hours on end, this might not sound like much. However, what made MoviePass stand out is the fact that MoviePass worked for any movie at any (commercial) theater . And the best part? It was only $10 a month. For a time, it dipped as low as $6.95 a month. Many at the time felt the price was too good to be true. And in a way, it was. 

What happened to the old MoviePass?  

As it turned out, allowing people to watch a movie a day didn't make for a very sustainable business. The price drop to $6.95 a month was followed by an explosion of new subscribers, and with the company buying tickets at list price from theaters, MoviePass ultimately began to lose money. Towards the end of its life, the original iteration of MoviePass would limit the number of free movies subscribers could watch per month to three, with additional movies being discounted $5 from the ticket price. MoviePass previously shut down its services for weeks at a time , preventing users from using it to purchase tickets. These cost-saving measures were too little too late, and caused major headaches for customers. The company finally filed for bankruptcy in 2019. 

How does MoviePass work?

This new iteration of MoviePass, referred to as being in beta on its site, operates on a credit system wherein users will use credits in lieu of a movie ticket. Credits are fluid in their value, as the number of credits it costs to see a movie reportedly varies based on demand. This means that a weekday matinee would cost fewer credits than a weekend evening show.  Credits will roll over from month-to-month, allowing you to keep unused credits for up to two months. Unfortunately, you can’t use MoviePass to fund a friend’s ticket, as the credits can also be used for one ticket per movie.  

How much is the new MoviePass?  

There are three tiers available, each with a different number of credits. The $10 Basic plan gives 34 credits which translates to 1-3 movies per month, according to the site. The $20 Standard plan gives 72 credits, or 3-7 movies per month. The Premium plan is $30 per month and gives 113 credits. And lastly, the limited availability Pro plan , which costs $40, gives you 640 credits and allows you to watch 30 movies per month (the number of movies you could watch for $10 with the original MoviePass). 

Should you get the new MoviePass?  

It’s a bit too early to say, but viewer discretion is advised. The good news is that the pricing seems much less ludicrous than the original iteration of MoviePass, so if you’re worried about this version quickly going the way of the dodo, rest assured that this seems to have more longevity.  

Whether or not you’re getting a deal is up in the air and this ultimately comes down to how far your credits will take you when demand is high. If you’re only able to see one movie a month with it, it’s not much different than buying a ticket directly from a movie theater. But if you’re able to see three movies for $10, then you’re getting a pretty good deal. The jury is still out on whether or not this demand-based credit system will prove to be worth it.

Ways to upgrade your home theater instead  

Weary of joining MoviePass? It’s only natural to feel that way after the way the original MoviePass played out. You can play it safe, of course, by getting movie tickets on an as-needed basis directly from theaters. Or, you can upgrade your home theater instead with some of our favorite products. It’ll feel like a movie theater in no time from the comfort of your home. All you need is to queue up a movie from your streaming service of choice. 

From mood lights to a high-quality screen, here's what you need to upgrade your home theater: 

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Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.  

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Review: 'passing' a mesmerizing movie & stunning debut for director rebecca hall.

review movie passing

In theaters now ahead of its Netflix debut on Nov. 10, “Passing” is not to be missed. You won’t ever forget the award-worthy performances of Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga as two Black women—one of whom is passing for white—as they walk the minefield of racial, class and gender identity.

Based on the 1929 novel by Nella Larsen, “Passing” is rich in period detail about Jazz Age New York, even as its themes of colorism resonate for right now. Shot in black-and-white, the film represents a sensational directing and screenwriting debut for British actress Rebecca Hall ( “Vicky Cristina Barcelona,” “The Town”).

review movie passing

The power of “Passing” comes from its delicate balance of ferocity and feeling. Hall sets the scene as Irene (Thompson), a doctor’s wife from Harlem, uses her light skin to escape a sweltering summer day and relax with a cool drink at an all-white Manhattan hotel. Irene feels awkward and guilty at her ruse.

MORE: 'The United States Vs. Billie Holiday' review: Andra Day gives performance of the year

Not so Clare (Negga), a childhood friend Irene hasn’t seen for years, who sweeps into the hotel with her wealthy white husband, John (Alexander Skarsgård), an avowed racist. Clare, a bleached-blond bombshell, is clearly practiced at passing.

Later, in Clare’s hotel suite, the two women catch up. Irene, who Clare calls “Reenie,” lives comfortably in Harlem with her Black husband, Brian (André Holland), and their two, dark-skinned sons and darker housekeeper, Zu (Ashley Ware Jenkins), with whom Irene maintains a condescending distance.

review movie passing

Clare is living a lie. Though she and John have a light-skinned daughter, she fears trying again for a son, just in case he “comes out dark” and her cover is blown. Irene senses danger in the imitation of life that Clare is living. And she’s right.

Hall builds tension as the two women compare their differences. Clare envies Irene’s centered life as a Black woman in a Black community and tries to co-opt it, while Irene longs for Clare’s captivating sexuality and perceived freedom.

Then there’s their own thinly-veiled attraction to each other. Jealousy intervenes as Clare flirts openly with Irene’s husband, who resents his wife’s refusal to deal with America’s racial bonfires, such as a lynching in Arkansas.

What attracted Hall, the daughter of the late British theater director Sir Peter Hall, to “Passing”? The answer is deeply personal. Having learned that her maternal grandfather passed as white—a fact about which her mother, opera singer Maria Ewing, had long been evasive—Hall plunged in.

"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," said Hall, who poured all these conflicting emotions into her film.

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The result is a mesmerizing movie that marks a stunning debut for Hall, whose work behind the camera is a wonder to behold. And she couldn’t have found two acting interpreters more capable of bringing her humanist vision to life on screen.

Negga, an Oscar nominee for “Loving,” finds the tragic roots behind Clare’s surface dazzle. And Thompson—Valkryie in Marvel’s “Avengers: Endgame and two Thor films—expertly uncovers the beating heart in the emotionally imprisoned Irene. Their artistry is staggering. Just sit back and behold.

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MoviePass is back, better, and maybe more confusing than before

Plans operate on a credit-based system this time around

New MoviePass subscription

MoviePass has made its long-awaited return as it launches a new subscription service in the United States.

We first saw the service as a limited beta all the way back in September 2022. It looks like the current version is mostly the same as the original although it is a bit more expansive. The way it works is you pay a monthly fee to watch a certain number of movies in theaters without having to buy a ticket. There are four tiers with prices ranging from $10 up to $40. However, rather than giving people a flat number of films they can watch in a month, MoviePass opts for a credit system with each tier giving users a fixed amount to use.

The $10 Basic tier offers the least, with 34 credits that allow people to watch somewhere between one to three movies a month. The $20 Standard Plan gives 72 credits for three to seven viewings a month. Premium ($30 a month) gives 113 credits for five to eleven films.  

The most expensive plan, the $40 Pro, grants 640 credits allowing people to watch up to 30 movies across 30 days. You can think of Pro as the “spiritual successor” to the previous (and disastrous) version of MoviePass . 

Varying costs

A MoviePass representative told us the cost (in credits) of a single movie is tied to the “day of the week” plus what time you’re watching, although they didn’t provide any further details. A recent report from TechCrunch claims Tuesdays are the cheapest whereas opening weekends are one of the more expensive options. Unused credits do roll over to the next month. Company CEO Stacy Spikes told TechCrunch people “can have up to a maximum of two months of unused credits” on their account.

These prices are for the general user in the US. The plans are more expensive if you live in either Southern California or the New York metropolitan area. Basic is $20, Standard is $30, Premium is $40, and Pro is $60 with no option to purchase a cheaper tier, according to a company representative. But users in those areas do get roughly double the number of credits. Standard, for example, offers 140 in Los Angeles instead of 72.


As for why MoviePass is adopting this system, the company states it lets members “choose the plan that best suits their viewing habits and budget.” The idea is whether you’re a casual theatergoer or a movie nerd, there’s something for everyone.

There are a couple of things we haven’t mentioned yet. You can’t watch 3D movies with the subscription, although there are plans to include “large format and premium screens” (presumably IMAX) soon. The service is supported by over 4,000 theaters across the country. A full list of every location can be found on the official website. The service is now open – just in time for Memorial Day. This holiday should provide an interesting proving ground for MoviePass.

We asked the same representative if they could provide us with exact numbers on how much it’ll cost to watch a film because that’s the one piece of information strangely missing from all this. And if there are plans for an international launch. This story will be updated at a later time.

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Cesar Cadenas

Cesar Cadenas has been writing about the tech industry for several years now specializing in consumer electronics, entertainment devices, Windows, and the gaming industry. But he’s also passionate about smartphones, GPUs, and cybersecurity. 

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‘passing’: film review | sundance 2021.

Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga play light-skinned Black women in 1920s New York, navigating the "color line" in different ways in Rebecca Hall's adaptation of the Harlem Renaissance novel.

By David Rooney

David Rooney

Chief Film Critic

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Exquisite performances from Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga provide the pulsing, emotionally heightened center to Passing , Rebecca Hall ‘s assured move behind the camera, adapted with great sensitivity from the 1929 novel by Harlem Renaissance author Nella Larsen. “We’re all of us passing for something or other, aren’t we?” muses Thompson’s melancholy character Irene Redfield. This is a dreamily atmospheric evocation of 1920s New York, its bursts of Jazz Age exuberance offset by the contained threat of people being unmasked. It tells an intimate story of two women on either side of the “color line” while undertaking an intersectional exploration of identity in relation to race, gender, class and sexuality.

Hall’s choice of material for her debut as writer-director is elevated by her evident personal investment in the story, having learned years ago that her American maternal grandfather, who died before she was born, was Black passing as white for most of his life. That intense connection pervades every lovingly composed shot of a work that takes an unwaveringly measured, subtle approach to subject matter frequently treated in the past as high melodrama, notably in films like Douglas Sirk’s Imitation of Life . The veiled contemplation of queer desire, as well as the setting and approach, invite greater comparison to semi-experimental films like Isaac Julien’s Looking for Langston .

Release date : Weds., Oct. 27 Venue : Sundance Film Festival (U.S. Dramatic Competition) Cast : Tessa Thompson, Ruth Negga, André Holland, Alexander Skarsgård, Bill Camp, Gbenga Akinnagbe, Antoinette Crowe-Legacy, Ashley Ware Jenkins Director-screenwriter : Rebecca Hall, based on the novel by Nella Larsen

Like that 1989 medium-length British feature, Passing is shot in gauzy black and white, in this case framed in the old Hollywood standard 4:3 aspect ratio to suggest portrait photography but also a strictly contained world of self-imposed boundaries — “safe,” except when it’s suddenly not. Visually, this is Spanish cinematographer Edu Grau’s most expressive period work since A Single Man , his images enhanced by top-notch craft collaborations from production designer Nora Mendis and costumer Marci Rodgers, both of whom provide rich detailing. The underscoring of composer Devonté Hynes’ gentle jazz piano strains contributes further to the vivid conjuring of a lost world.

The effective opening locks in on Irene on a rare trip downtown beyond the more protected confines of Harlem as she half-hides beneath a chic wide-brimmed hat on a sweltering summer day, averting her gaze from every store clerk, sidewalk pedestrian or taxi driver she encounters. Her fear of exposure and humiliation seems palpable as she seeks a reprieve from the heat in the palm-filled tea room of the fictional Drayton Hotel, which is based on the Drake in Chicago. As in Larsen’s novel, the establishment does not have the era’s ubiquitous “No Coloreds” signs, though the white clientele make it clear Irene is there because she has gone unnoticed as she powders down her flushed complexion.

The sharp contrast between the two principal characters is instantly apparent when Clare Kendry (Negga), a close friend from her youth, surprises “Renie” with an effusive greeting. With her breathy, soft-spoken speech and perky blond flapper hairdo, it’s obvious Clare passes as white even before she explains that her banker husband John (Alexander Skarsgård) knows only that she was raised by her white religious aunts after her father died. She explains that since having a daughter, she hasn’t dared try again for the son she always wanted, in case he “comes out dark.”

Irene is nervous, anxious to get away, but Clare is too thrilled to find her again after 12 years to let her go, insisting they go to her suite where they can talk. The early return of John, who has brought them to New York from Chicago on business, reveals him to be an unabashed racist. Clare laughs off his words with practiced nonchalance as he jokes that his wife has gotten darker every day since their marriage, hence his term of endearment for her, “Nig.” He explains that she’s more intolerant than he is, and won’t even have a Black maid. Renie is visibly disturbed by the encounter, even if the warmth John’s wife shows toward her means it would never occur to him that she’s anything but white.

There’s a marked visual switch from Clare and John’s suite, an airy space drenched in white light, to the more textured look inside the Harlem brownstone where Irene lives with her doctor husband Brian (André Holland) and their two boys. The action flashes forward to the fall, when a letter from Clare, postmarked New York, indicates that she has moved back to the city as she hoped. Irene is hesitant to open it, but Brian is more curious, arching his eyebrows at Clare’s florid description of “this pale life of mine,” as she gently chides Renie for exposing her “wild desire” for another life.

When Clare turns up at her door, her petulance over Irene’s non-response to her letter is like that of a spurned lover. But despite Renie’s warnings that she’s courting danger by coming to Harlem, Clare soon settles into giddy happiness at their reunion. She confesses that seeing her old friend again released her loneliness of never being able to be open with anyone; she envies Renie her “good life, free and safe.”

But in Thompson’s unshowy, beautifully internalized performance, Irene is restricted in her own way to the prescribed codes of marriage, motherhood and middle-class respectability. Negga, on the other hand, has an almost Blanche DuBois performative air in her manner, with a fluttering musical lilt as she thanks Irene for her diplomacy toward her racist husband: “It was very kind of you to be so delicate about it.”

When Irene reveals that she’s working with the white writer Hugh Wentworth (Bill Camp) on the organizing committee for an upcoming Negro Welfare League dance, Clare insists on coming, ignoring her friend’s concerns. Brian expresses his disdain for anyone living in denial of who they are, but he’s gradually charmed by the “blond princess from Chicago.” Clare works her beguiling spell on everyone, including the Redfields’ sons and their darker-skinned housekeeper Zu (Ashley Ware Jenkins).

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Tessa thompson and ruth negga's racial-identity movie 'passing' and why rebecca hall was the "perfect person" to direct.

Hall’s layered screenplay impresses in its ability to reflect, without didacticism, on the elastic borders of identity and the mutable dualities between Black and white, man and woman, gay and straight. A droll conversation between Irene and her friend Hugh at the dance brings up points about exoticism and “emotional excitement” in the somewhat predatory interest of sophisticated white New Yorkers in uptown Black society.

Camp is, well, gloriously camp as Hugh chortles about his wife being whirled around the dance floor by a series of dapper “Ethiopian” men, revealing his own not-so-closeted interest in them by commenting on one “fantastically handsome” dark-skinned dancer who is a magnet to half the women in the crowded room. Interestingly, Hugh is the only one immune to Clare’s allure, perhaps because she doesn’t share his self-infatuation. He’s quietly disparaging about the “poor little me” act of her shadow existence.

Using the apt device of occasional white-outs between scenes, the director navigates a smooth tonal modulation as Irene’s observation of Clare’s happiness at the dance quietly uncovers something missing in her own life and seems to shift the dominant desire from one woman to another. This acquires poignant shades of sadness as Renie shows signs of falling apart, self-medicating during Clare’s absence in Europe and then drifting to the margins when her friend returns, a brighter social butterfly than ever.

Still, the homoerotic undertones in their scenes have a lovely, delicate yearning quality, for instance in one gorgeous interlude where the two women chat on Irene’s Harlem stoop as the sounds of a neighborhood jazz trumpeter’s practice drift lazily through the air. In a moment of shocking forthrightness, Clare reveals she would “do anything, hurt anybody, throw anything away” to get what she wants out of life, having openly expressed earlier that the comforts of money make her ethnic subterfuge worth it. “I’m not safe,” she confesses, a warning that carries startling blunt force.

In a script full of attention to dividing lines both bold and blurred, Hall also weaves in threads about the lines separating children and adults. Irene seeks to maintain her sons’ innocence about the ugliness in the world, while Brian sees it as necessary for them to be aware of the hatred behind racial slurs they hear at school, causing his wife discomfort when he shares graphic details of a lynching in Arkansas. “I’m old enough not to be spoken to like a child anymore,” says her eldest boy. Brian feels strongly about taking the family away from “this hellish place,” while Irene is reluctant to leave America, seemingly more so since Clare re-entered her life.

The drama builds, perhaps inevitably but no less affectingly, to tragedy, taking its cue from Larsen in re-appropriating the trope of the “tragic mulatto” from early African American literature from a more psychologically nuanced perspective. The sorrowful turn brings race firmly to the center of the story, though its violence comes in a development that will be surprising for anyone unfamiliar with the novel.

The catalyst for the final scenes is a chance encounter on the street with John when Renie is out shopping with her glamorous Harlem socialite friend Felise (Antoinette Crowe-Legacy), a willowy stunner whose skin is too dark to escape the racist banker’s notice.

Skarsgård deserves credit for taking on a relatively tiny role, filling in some of the shading missing in the script’s characterization of John both here and in a powerful subsequent scene. And Holland brings depth and intelligence to a man anchored by a firm sense of who he is and the world in which he exists. But the film belongs to the two superb actresses at its center.

Negga’s seemingly blasé attitude when Renie questions Clare on what she would do if John found out the truth about her is a piercing moment of self-revelation behind her studied poise. And Thompson is devastating, conveying with an increasing burden of sadness the ways in which Irene — despite purporting to live more openly than her friend — is defined by a deep sense of longing that in turn defines the film.

Whether this is a one-time passion project or the beginnings of an ongoing move from acting into directing in her career focus, Hall has crafted a work that’s thoughtful, provocative and emotionally resonant.

Full credits

Venue: Sundance Film Festival (U.S. Dramatic Competition) Distributor: Netflix Production companies: Significant Productions, Picture Films, Flat Five, in association with AUM Group, XRM Media, Film4, TGCK Partners, Gamechanger Films, Sweet Tomato Films Cast: Tessa Thompson, Ruth Negga, André Holland, Alexander Skarsgård, Bill Camp, Gbenga Akinnagbe, Antoinette Crowe-Legacy, Ashley Ware Jenkins Director-screenwriter: Rebecca Hall, based on the novel by Nella Larsen Producers: Nina Yang Bongiovi, Forest Whitaker, Margot Hand, Rebecca Hall Executive producers: Oren Moverman, Angela Robinson, Erika Hampson, Michael Y. Chow, Kevin A. Lin, Ruth Negga, Tessa Thompson, Lauren Dark, Daniel Battsek, Ollie Madden, Brenda Robinson, Chaz Ebert, Yvonne Huff, Christopher Liu, Arcadiy Golubovich, Dori A. Rath, Joseph J. Restaino, David Gendron, Ali Jazayeri Director of photography: Edu Grau Production designer: Nora Mendis Costume designer: Marci Rodgers Music: Devonté Hynes Editor: Sabine Hoffman Visual effects supervisor: David Tecson Casting: Laura Rosenthal, Kimberly Ostroy Sales: Endeavor Content

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Stream It Or Skip It: ‘Passing’ on Netflix, an Extraordinary Drama About Racial Identity Starring Ruth Negga and Tessa Thompson

Where to stream:.

  • Passing (2021)

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Netflix film Passing marks the directorial debut of Rebecca Hall, who adapts Nella Larsen’s 1929 novel as a lushly photographed, black-and-white melodrama starring Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga. The two actresses play mixed-race women, one proudly Black, and the other “passing,” or living as white; they’re old friends who meet after many years apart, their worlds colliding. The film is a personal project for Hall, whose maternal grandfather was a Black man passing as white for decades while living in Detroit, and her contemplative perspective renders the film one of the year’s most compelling — and challenging — dramas.


The Gist: When Irene (Thompson) is in Harlem, she’s Black. When she’s outside her home borough, shopping at a toy store for gifts for her sons, she pulls her hat down low over her brow, covering her hair — she’s passing. She does it mostly as a matter of convenience, and not very often; otherwise, she’s proud of her identity. Her husband is Black, her boys are Black, and she’s the one-woman planning committee for the Negro Welfare League. She leaves the toy store and heads to the Drayton Hotel cafe for a cool drink on a sweltering day. The room is blindingly white in both its lighting and clientele, but nobody bats an eye. It’s the 1920s.

Nobody, except Clare (Negga), a friend from years ago in Harlem, who greets her warmly, calling her “Reenie.” They catch up a little: Irene’s still in Harlem, her husband’s a doctor, she’s a happy mother. Clare is visiting from Chicago, her husband is well-off, she really didn’t like being pregnant with her daughter because she was worried the kid would be born with dark skin. Clare’s been passing for years, and her husband is unaware. It’s a good thing maybe, because he arrives to amplify the tension of this reunion. They banter awkwardly, and arrive on the topic of prejudice. Irene asks John (Alexander Skarsgard) point blank if he dislikes Black people. “No,” he replies, “I hate them.” And then Irene departs, graciously, somehow.

Weeks go by. Clare writes a heartfelt letter to Irene, but she doesn’t reply. It’s postmarked from New York, so she appears to have moved. Irene’s husband Brian (Andre Holland) is frequently exhausted by work, family life and the chill that’s crept into their marriage. They enjoy a nice home with a housekeeper, and parties with other middle-class Harlem friends. Clare shows up at the door one day, upset by the lack of a return letter. She and Irene speak frankly, discussing what makes one “happy, free and safe.” They have a complicated friendship — and it definitely is that, a friendship, which develops further complexities as Clare becomes a recurring guest, an invitee to their social gatherings, their dances and bridge games and family dinners, kind of a third wheel on their marriage. Irene and Clare are strong women, wives and mothers, Black people with light skin. Where is their place in America, in this world?

What Movies Will It Remind You Of?: Let’s remember some extraordinary performances: Negga’s in Loving , about the interracial marriage that became a key component of the Supreme Court’s 1967 ruling that legalized such unions. And Thompson’s in Sylvie’s Love , a terribly underrated mid-century period romance that’s an effervescent joy.

Performance Worth Watching: It’s easy to see Thompson getting a best actress nomination and Negga landing a supporting nod come Oscar time. There’s so much subtly charged social, political, racial and interpersonal subtext to their dialogue and performances, it’s impossible to say one or the other actress is better.

Memorable Dialogue: “We’re all of us passing for something or other.” — Irene sees the big picture

Sex and Skin: None.

Our Take: Race is a social construct, and rarely more so than in Passing , which details the crucial context of Irene and Clare’s identities. Note how the highly saturated lighting in the hotel cafe seems to lighten their skin tone, and how the comfortable confines of Irene’s Harlem home seems to darken it. But this story isn’t wholly entrenched in racial identity — marriage, motherhood and parenthood are addressed in terms that are universal, but also specific to the Black experience. One of the wedges between Brian and Irene is how they’ll explain the world’s harsh realities to their sons; he bluntly reads them a news story about lynching in the South, while she argues for protecting their precious innocence for just a while longer. Another is her involvement in the Negro Welfare League, which consumes enough time — time that would be free for a person not dealing with racial disenfranchisement — that Brian feels neglect. “What about this negro?” he asks, moving her hand to his thigh.

The contrast between Clare and Irene’s characters is a key dynamic. Irene is reserved, poised, softspoken, while Clare is the life of any party, quick to be melodramatic. The film eschews typical narratives by positioning Clare as the more envious of the two; Irene doesn’t yearn to be white nearly as much as Clare desires to return to Black society, and her frequent excursions into Harlem come at substantial risk. Thompson’s performance is an understated descent into a type of madness derived from numerous sources of stress: Her fracturing marriage. A white friend and famous author (keenly played by Bill Camp) whose visits to Harlem she views as little more than tourism. The cruel outside world encroaching on her children. Clare potentially encroaching on Brian, who seems to have taken a shine to this woman. And her inability to acknowledge the ever-so-slight romantic tension she shares with Clare. There’s a major storm brewing beneath the surface of Passing , and it’s only a matter of time before it erupts.

Our Call: STREAM IT. Passing is a visually and thematically rich drama that seems destined for some awards-season glory.

Will you stream or skip Rebecca Hall's extraordinary #PassingMovie on @netflix ? #SIOSI #PassingNetflix — Decider (@decider) November 13, 2021

John Serba is a freelance writer and film critic based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Read more of his work at .

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“Passing,” Reviewed: Rebecca Hall’s Anguished Vision of Black Identity

review movie passing

By Richard Brody

Blackandwhite still from “Passing” showing Ruth Negga and Tessa Thompson walking down a street.

Rebecca Hall’s directorial début, “Passing,” based on Nella Larsen’s 1929 novel of the same name, is one of the rare book adaptations that brings a literary style to the screen. The film’s sense of style is more than mere ornament; it embodies the confrontation with circumstances—practical, emotional, historical—at the heart of the story. “Passing” (coming to Netflix on Wednesday) is a period piece, set in Harlem during Prohibition, just before the Depression. The movie achieves an ample, resonant reconstruction of that era, but it doesn’t feature colossal sets or give the sense that entire neighborhoods were transformed for the purpose of shooting. Instead, Hall uses sharply defined locations imaginatively and conjures the time through her original way with light, texture, and gesture, all redolent of a storied yet troubled past. The result is an emotional immediacy that’s all the sharper for its subtlety, all the more intense for its contemplative refinement, and that, above all, gives apt expression to the film’s mighty and agonized subject.

The movie stars Tessa Thompson as Irene Redfield, a woman of about thirty who lives in a Harlem town house with her husband—Brian (André Holland), a doctor—and their two sons, one a child and the other on the cusp of puberty. She’s an activist who works as a volunteer for a (fictitious) charitable organization called the Negro League while also running the household. A light-skinned Black woman, she’s taken for white by white people in the course of her errands outside Harlem on a hot summer day. At a hotel café, Irene encounters Clare Bellew (Ruth Negga), a friend from high school whom she hasn’t seen in a dozen years. Clare, too, has light skin—but, unlike Irene, she intentionally passes for white. She’s married to a wealthy white banker named John (Alexander Skarsgård) and lives her entire life amid white society. Clare’s reunion with Irene (whom she calls Reenie) awakens a long-suppressed desire to exist among Black people, to affirm her own identity without shame or fear. Clare imposes herself on the Redfield household, befriends Brian and the boys, takes part in Negro League social events run by Irene—and, in doing so, knowingly confronts the grave risk that John will find out that she’s Black.

The daily anguish that passing causes Clare is revealed during the women’s initial reunion. In Clare’s hotel room (she and John are on an extended visit from their home in Chicago), John comes in and—taking Irene for white, too—makes racist remarks that include the N-word. He calls Clare by a horrific nickname, based on the color of her skin (he takes it for something like olive), which Clare is obligated to laugh at daily. Irene doesn’t challenge the racist epithets, but she does ask John his opinion of Negroes. He responds that he hates them but that Clare hates them even more and refuses even to hire Black maids (unbeknownst to him, of course, not from hatred but from fear). The tension that Clare endures suffuses the film like a stifled scream. When the two women discuss their home lives, Clare says that she and John have only one child, a daughter, and that she refuses to have any more—because her pregnancy was a time of harrowing anxiety lest the baby turn out to be dark-skinned.

The hatred in the air, the ambient racism—spoken and unspoken, acted upon or merely built into the ordinary habits of society—is the basic framework for Hall’s movie. It’s a matter of marital discord between Irene and Brian, who wants the family to emigrate from the United States to Europe in order to avoid American bigotry. Despite her involvement with the Negro League, a civic organization that apparently promotes the interests of Black people, Irene is trying to raise her sons without reference to the terrors that Blacks face in American society—she tries to prevent Brian from telling them about lynchings. (He persists nonetheless and tells them about the murder of John Carter , in Little Rock, Arkansas.) When one of their sons is called the N-word, the experience is as much of a surprise to him as it is a shock.

Clare’s seemingly passive weathering of such hatred prompts Irene to try to keep her at a distance. (Irene later admits to having overlooked the relentless and furious self-control that such a constant performance costs Clare.) Yet once Clare takes the step of self-liberation—at least part time, out of John’s sight—she can’t and won’t stop, and Irene is powerless to get in the way of what she knows to be a disaster in the making. Hall’s greatest directorial inspiration is her portrayal of Irene, who, for all her bustling activity, is passive in her own way—and who, for all her relentless observation, is caught in tangles of passion. In the movie as in the novel, Irene is the story’s main character, its central consciousness, even if it’s Clare whose actions give rise to the central drama. Hall follows Irene throughout, and much of what Hall shows Irene doing is watching, looking, gazing, staring, pondering. The very heart of the movie “Passing” is in Thompson’s eyes, and, as Thompson brings a vast expressive range and emotional energy to her gaze, Hall works a wide variety of changes on the theme. She films Thompson in varied, vigorous, and probing closeups. She offers point-of-view shots in which other characters stare, seemingly into the camera, at Irene. She fills the movie with mirrors and finds Irene unable to escape her own gaze in them, let alone the gazes of others as they turn up alongside her in the reflections. Above all, Hall shows Irene watching with mounting anguish as events in which she is inextricably involved speed toward their inevitable conclusion—and as she is bumped outside herself, watching her own inability to take action on behalf of her friend.

“Passing” is a drama of vision and of inner vision, of appearances and images and self-images, and Hall’s spare and reserved cinematic style serves to emphasize the inward aspect of the action, its crises of consciousness. Her finely textured, tensely poised compositions, filmed in black-and-white, render the drama of desperate desires and unspoken emotions in high and fervent relief. In sharply detailed yet allusive abstractions, Hall turns the Harlem of the nineteen-twenties into a stage of grand philosophical tragedy. Irene’s own reflections, both mental and visual, are joined to quietly imposing depictions of city life, including broodingly expressive views of the staccato rhythms of brownstone architecture and a series of tracking shots (on the Harlem street leading Irene and other characters to the Redfields’ town house) that recur onscreen like a musical motif. There’s also a literal musical motif, piano music composed and performed by Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Guèbrou, that Hall uses to accompany yet another striking, recurring visual figure: sunlight seen through the leaves of trees on the Redfields’ street, a sort of cinematic harmony of culture and nature, of aesthetics and experience, that stands throughout as an artistic and political ideal.

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Nuanced drama about race and identity in 1920s New York.

Passing Poster Image

A Lot or a Little?

What you will—and won't—find in this movie.

Positive themes of friendship, community, and self

Irene celebrates her identity as a Black woman. Sh

Irene and Clare are light-skinned Black women who

Discussion of racially motivated violence, includi

Married characters shown embracing and kissing (im

Occasional use of the "N" word.

Adults occasionally smoke cigarettes and drink alc

Parents need to know that Passing is a nuanced drama about two Black friends in 1920s New York, one of whom chooses to pass for White. When Irene (Tessa Thompson) runs into her childhood friend, Clare (Ruth Negga), she learns that Clare has been "passing" for many years, fabricating a backstory and marrying a…

Positive Messages

Positive themes of friendship, community, and self-preservation, especially in the face of bigotry and racism. Deals with complex isssues surrounding race and identity, making it clear that the characters' experiences passing for White don't mean they're any less Black. The way the movie ends shows this to be true. Passing for White offers a false sense of security, and nothing could afford these Black women power and protection from "whiteness."

Positive Role Models

Irene celebrates her identity as a Black woman. She welcomes Clare, knowing that Clare has lived a life of untruths -- hiding her identity as a Black woman and marrying a racist White man. Other characters display racist bigotry.

Diverse Representations

Irene and Clare are light-skinned Black women who grapple with the complicated impact of being able to "pass" for White. Other characters are White and Black. Diversity in age and gender representation, but little in ability or sexuality.

Did we miss something on diversity? Suggest an update.

Violence & Scariness

Discussion of racially motivated violence, including lynching. In a heated interaction, one character steps backward and falls out a window, resulting in death. Their body is shown on the pavement from afar.

Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Violence & Scariness in your kid's entertainment guide.

Sex, Romance & Nudity

Married characters shown embracing and kissing (implication is that it leads to sex).

Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Sex, Romance & Nudity in your kid's entertainment guide.

Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Language in your kid's entertainment guide.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adults occasionally smoke cigarettes and drink alcohol.

Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Drinking, Drugs & Smoking in your kid's entertainment guide.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that Passing is a nuanced drama about two Black friends in 1920s New York, one of whom chooses to pass for White. When Irene ( Tessa Thompson ) runs into her childhood friend, Clare ( Ruth Negga ), she learns that Clare has been "passing" for many years, fabricating a backstory and marrying a racist White man ( Alexander Skarsgård ). Clare finds comfort in re-connecting with Irene, who celebrates being Black. Irene must decide whether to welcome Clare into her life -- a life she has carefully curated to validate her dignity and worthiness as a Black woman. Mature content includes use of the "N" word, discussion of racially motivated violence (including lynching), a character taking a fatal fal from a window, and occasional drinking and cigarette smoking. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails .

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Based on 1 parent review

This film draws you in with its slow and tense releationships

What's the story.

In PASSING, Irene ( Tessa Thompson ) runs into her childhood friend Clare ( Ruth Negga ) at a restaurant in 1920s New York City. At first, the women don't recognize each other, as they've both changed their appearance to be able to "pass" as White women. Irene, who's passing for the day, learns that Clare has been passing as White for many years. Clare introduces Irene to her White husband ( Alexander Skarsgård ), who, ignorant to being in the presence of Black women, quickly reveals his racist hatred of Black people. Irene ventures back to her life in Harlem, where she lives with her Black husband, a doctor named Brian ( André Holland ), their two children, and a housekeeper. Clare writes to Irene, expressing an interest in spending time with her in Harlem, where she feels safe to be her true self. Irene's family and friends are quickly taken by Clare -- her proximity to whiteness makes her deceivingly desirable. And her presence threatens the intentional and protective self-love that Irene has painstakingly nurtured in her world. How long can Clare keep up her lie of being White while leeching off of the culture she has chosen to reject for so long?

Is It Any Good?

Passing is a stylized yet nuanced look into the practice of Black people passing for White. The film is able to explore whiteness in a unique way, since neither of the main characters is White. As a result, "whiteness" plays an abstract character of its own, both alluring and plaguing the movie's Black community. Irene, her husband, and her friends each have their moment of attraction toward Clare: It's the classic dynamic of oppressed people coveting the likeness of their oppressor. Clare represents a privilege that they have likely, if subconsciously, aspired to have. She has access to the power and protection that comes with being seen as White.

But that privilege isn't free. It has caused Clare to relinquish aspects of her true self. Irene, on the other hand, has had to nurture her power and protection on her own. A friendship with Clare means a friendship with someone who hides an identity they both share. If Clare rejects her own blackness, how can she possibly value Irene's blackness? Passing is a beautiful directorial debut from Rebecca Hall. Thompson exhibits restrained intensity as Irene, and Negga plays a lost, reckless, yet inescapably lovable Clare. Sensitivity and generosity touch every element of the production, from the cinematography to the editing, allowing viewers to sit in the prolonged emotion of the characters.

Talk to Your Kids About ...

Families can talk about how the movie handles the idea of "passing." What do you think were the costs and benefits for a Black person who chose to pass in the United States in the 1920s?

Do you agree with Irene or Brian about the idea of talking to their kids about racially motivated violence like lynching?

Why do you think Clare chose to spend so much time in Harlem with Irene? How does reconnecting with Irene affect Clare's personal identity (and vice-versa)?

Movie Details

  • On DVD or streaming : November 10, 2021
  • Cast : Tessa Thompson , Ruth Negga , Andre Holland
  • Director : Rebecca Hall
  • Inclusion Information : Female directors, Female actors, Black actors, Latino actors, Multiracial actors
  • Studio : Netflix
  • Genre : Drama
  • Topics : Friendship , History
  • Run time : 98 minutes
  • MPAA rating : PG-13
  • MPAA explanation : thematic material, some racial slurs and smoking
  • Last updated : February 17, 2023

Did we miss something on diversity?

Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.

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Ruth Negga and Tessa Thompson in Passing.

Passing review – life is anything but black and white in Rebecca Hall’s smart period drama

Ruth Negga is magnetic in Hall’s adaptation of Nella Larsen’s story of race in 1920s Harlem

A t a glamorous party in 1920s Harlem, a young black woman and an older white man perch at the edge of a dancefloor. “Can you always tell the difference?” he asks her, eyes narrowing at an exotic blond. “Hugh, stop talking to me like you’re writing a piece for the National Geographic !” she replies. “I can tell, same as you.” In Rebecca Hall’s elegant adaptation of Nella Larsen’s 1929 novel, the idea of who can “pass” for a different race is not nearly as enticing as why they might choose to do so. Safety, self-loathing and even plain boredom are hinted at as possible explanations.

Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga play two light-skinned black women who knew each other as children. When Irene (Thompson) chances upon Clare (Negga) after 12 years apart, she is shocked to discover that her friend has been passing as white. Negga is magnetic as antiheroine Clare; a slinky, charismatic presence with dubious motives and a tinkling laugh, she ingratiates herself into Irene’s life, turning it upside down. The repressed Irene in turn envies, resents and protects Clare.

Hall emphasises the moral grey area by shooting in black and white, an ingenious choice that allows her to light Clare as black or white, depending on who she’s interacting with (when she meets Irene’s dark-skinned sons, she has a silent movie-star glow). Twinned with a boxy 4:3 aspect ratio, the film looks ripped from its period setting.

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Passing Resists the Histrionics of the White-Made Race Film

By Cassie da Costa

Image may contain Human Person Restaurant Furniture Chair Ruth Negga Dining Table Table Tablecloth Food and Meal

You can’t say that Passing , currently in theaters and on Netflix November 10, is either coming or going. The film, adapted by Rebecca Hall from Black writer Nella Larsen’s 1929 novel of the same name and shot entirely in black and white, embodies the close reading—not necessarily of text, but of gestures and attitudes—that became crucial for Black survival under American chattel slavery, during Reconstruction, and thereafter. At the beginning of the film, a light-skinned woman, Irene Redfield ( Tessa Thompson ), passes for white while doing her daily errands in New York City’s Upper East Side. But when she goes home to Harlem, to her darker-skinned husband, Brian ( Moonlight and The Eddy ’s André Holland ) and very dark-skinned sons, she’s Black again.

This time, though, she doesn’t make it back before being spotted. A pale, blonde woman flirting with nearly everybody across a dining room makes eye contact. “Reenie?” What we see, as the audience, is another light-skinned Black woman recognizing her own. But what the white people in the film see—what even Reenie sees, for several moments—is a white woman. This glamorous, mysterious lady approaches with a glint in her eye. “It’s me! Clare!” Irish actress Ruth Negga plays her with her large, inquiring eyes serving as both a form of assertion and protection, constantly reading the situation . Irene/Reenie is flustered and excited—then, over the course of their re-connection, discomfited and disturbed.

Much of the film inches on quietly, with words, looks, and movements accruing over the course of public and domestic exchanges between the women and their spouses. Clare’s husband John Bellew ( Alexander Skarsgård ) is a jovial racist who takes Irene, and of course his own wife, for white. Brian, a doctor, is suspicious of Clare, and wary of her effect on his family. But it’s Irene’s crescendoing despair, and an internal pain that begins to beam out as a kind of paranoia, that push the film fragilely forward. Passing is a ghost story, and it’s unclear if Clare is even real to herself.

Hall, who is white but whose maternal grandfather was Black (her mother, opera singer Maria Ewing , is mixed-race), quietly yet steadfastly attends to the trouble of race as not only a manufactured idea, but a lived reality in a deeply segregated society. Irene is somewhat of an imperious housewife, firmly commanding her dark-skinned maid Zulena in daily tasks while juggling serious involvement in African American community charity events. Clare, on the other hand, refuses to have a Black maid in the white part of the city (if she did, wouldn’t her husband find her out?). But when she begins frequenting the Redfields’ home, she and Zulena strike up an easy comradery.

The movie’s premise is potentially a titillating one for a certain kind of white viewer who may hope to see the drama of racial strife played out on a grand scale; the number of times directors have remade Imitation of Life , adapted from white writer Fannie Hurst’s 1933 novel, indicates as much. The idea of a Black woman passing for white is the stuff of melodrama, but Hall resists the ease of histrionics.

Passing, instead, emphasizes how casually we can lose ourselves in a world built on varying and opposing perception. The film lingers on the shame felt in finding a place where we don’t quite belong. Clare clearly seeks Black kinship now that she has turned herself over to the conveniences of white life; yet Irene sees Clare’s confidence and envies it, despite knowing that by living as a Black woman, she has greater ease and security in her life than her childhood friend does.

Much of what you see in Passing you’ll miss if you don’t really pay attention. This is, obviously, the entire idea. No matter the language we use or the identities we are assigned or take on, race is not material or fixed—it transforms and distorts.The immediate guttural punches we’ve come to expect from a specific type of movie often never arrive in real life. Larsen herself resisted imbuing her book with a definitive conclusion; its ending seems to whisk away its own premise, and left a fair amount of (white) critics at the time dissatisfied. In fact, Larsen, who was mixed-race and fit fully into neither white nor Black society , disappeared from public view towards the end of her life after moving from Harlem to downtown Manhattan. Acquaintances suspected she may have gone on to pass.

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'Passing' Is a Timely—And Timeless—Exploration of Racial Identity

In a new Netflix movie, Nella Larsen's Harlem Renaissance novel comes to life. Nearly a century later, this story of a fraught friendship between two Black women remains painfully relevant.

Headshot of Zakiya Dalila Harris

When I first heard that Nella Larsen’s 1929 novel Passing was being adapted into a Netflix film, I had some questions.

Not one of them was why . On paper, an adaptation made all the sense in the world. Just its setting of bustling 1920s Harlem alone rendered it ripe for cinematic gold, in my mind, and its focus—a fraught friendship between two Black women who wield their ability to pass as white women in very different ways— feels painfully relevant in a world that still esteems whiteness and anything close to it.

Still, something about it made me scratch my head. There had to be a reason why no one had turned Passing into a film before, right?

I should pause here and say that I’m no Nella Larsen expert. I didn’t read Passing until a couple of years ago, and when I did, it was somewhat on a whim. I’d even go so far as to say that one of the reasons I decided to read the novel was because it’s so short—a little over a hundred pages—and the publishing job I had back then left me little free time to read. Once I picked up Passing , though, I couldn’t put it down. I was fascinated by Irene, a middle-class Black woman whose chance encounter with her childhood friend Clare completely upends her life. I was fascinated even more by the novel’s tragic conclusion. I’d read my fair share of works from the Harlem Renaissance, and while I’d admired them, this one felt fresh and exciting.

Penguin Classics Passing


It also helped that the seed for my own story about a fraught Black friendship had planted itself in my brain right at the same time. That seed would grow into a multi-genre novel called The Other Black Girl, which came out this past June, but when I started writing it, I only knew two things for certain: that my Black female protagonist would be bound by her need to assimilate into her all-white publishing office, and that this need would be challenged when another different-minded Black woman becomes her coworker.

Passing’s concern with respectability politics and the strain such politics often place upon the Black community can be found in my own Black characters’ interactions. The story had such an impact on me that I even named my protagonist after Larsen herself. But the commonalities between our works don’t stop there. Traces of Irene can be found in Nella’s hyperawareness; her envy of her new Black coworker’s ability to move through “white worlds” and “Black worlds” so effortlessly; and her ever-increasing worry that she is losing everything she worked hard for. Perhaps most significant of all, though, is the question we both ask: What is the right way for a Black woman to get ahead in a society that devalues them?

In Passing, the answer isn’t simple. It’s muddled by hypocrisy, hollow smiles, and subtle but very real societal pressures. Yet even though the book concludes with (spoiler alert!) a dead body, the story itself does not burn hot. It simmers quietly upon every page, taking a backseat to Irene’s downward spiral as she struggles to reconcile her feelings for her childhood friend Clare—envy, disdain, sexual desire—with the pressing need to conform.

Such is the brilliance and timelessness of Larsen’s tale: that it is loudest in its most cerebral moments. And so, the question swirling around my head when I sat down to watch actress-turned-director Rebecca Hall’s adaptation of Passing was not why this movie was getting the cinematic treatment, but how.

The answer came shortly after I pressed play. The opening sequence places us on a bustling sidewalk in Manhattan. There is no color—Hall shot the film entirely in black-and-white—and there isn’t a musical score, either. Instead, snippets of conversations dribble in and out of earshot as anonymous pairs of shoes click noisily past the camera. In this moment—as our gaze lingers on detached legs, never faces—we must wait for two pairs of feet to take us away from the sidewalk and into a toy store.

The ambiance of this opening calls to mind noir films of yesteryear. Hall commands viewers to be patient, to wait for the payoff. Even when the camera finally delivers a slow-panning introduction to Irene (Tessa Thompson), we still can’t see her face—a wide-brimmed hat obscures her eyes, and a neutral smile hides her thoughts. This feeling of inaccessibility only follows her when she visits a hotel bar a few minutes later. For what feels like forever, we watch Irene observe her surroundings with hardly any reaction. Again, we wait.

The film thrives in quiet, forever-feeling moments like these: little to no music, instants of evocative, saturated dialogue punctuated by long, meaningful pauses. I liked these deliberate moments and was willing to give myself over to them, partly because I’d already read the book, and partly because I love a slow burn. So as Irene looked around that hotel bar, taking it all in, I could already guess that we were waiting for Clare (Ruth Negga) to sit down at a nearby table and forever change Irene’s life.

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Sure enough, this is exactly what happens, because Hall stays true to Larsen throughout the film rather than modernizing or fleshing out the story—with a few notable exceptions. At the end of the book, for example, when Clare’s husband confronts her after discovering she’s been a Black woman the entire time they were married, he calls her “a damned dirty n-----.” In the film, her husband (Alexander Skarsgård) calls her “a dirty liar.” This revision feels like a pointed update on Hall’s part.

But what if you are new to this story? As I watched, I kept wondering what audiences who haven’t read the book—especially young audiences—would think about it. Remember the appeal of 1920s Harlem that I mentioned earlier? It’s here, but besides one scene that takes place at a Negro Welfare League dance, the jazziness of the era is subdued to a twinkling of piano here, or a snatch of jazz trumpet there. Then, there’s its measured pace. Some might find it tedious; others may wonder if the conflict could have been heightened, and they would be fair to do so. The racism in this film comes in faint whispers, as does Irene’s envy of, and desire for, Clare. I would argue, though, that the true conflict comes most alive in Thompson’s and Negga’s stellar performances. Thompson is skillful at conveying both detachment and vulnerability in the same exact instant, and Negga is so dynamic that she deserves an award simply for the expressiveness of her face alone. They themselves are the drama, which is something I’d like to think Larsen would have appreciated.

Atria Books The Other Black Girl: A Novel

The Other Black Girl: A Novel

If neither its artfulness nor its two leading actresses are convincing enough reasons to see the film, I would point toward Passing’s biggest strength of all: its relatability. This story feels so human and relevant, particularly in what it has to say about the rigidity and futility of labels like “Black” and “white.” Having grown up in a middle-class and mostly white environment, I can attest to this rigidity firsthand. Often the only Black person in my classes, I’d try to fit in with my peers in the hopes that no one would notice I was different. It wasn’t until I got a little older and met Black people outside of my bubble that I wondered if maybe I’d done too good of a job fitting in. I spent many years after that occupying what felt like a liminal space—a place where I didn’t feel “Black enough,” but I definitely wasn’t white, either.

Assimilating isn’t limited to just racial identity, however. Halfway into the film, Irene asserts just as much to a famous male white author: “We’re all of us passing for something or other. Aren’t we?” she asks him. She doesn’t say this in the book, but here, it feels right. In directing the question toward this privileged white man, it’s clear Irene is really directing this question toward all of humanity. Because it’s true: our façades might have changed over the last hundred years, but our motivations for wearing them haven’t. Sometimes—for better or for worse—we must pretend in order to survive.

Headshot of Zakiya Dalila Harris

Zakiya Dalila Harris is a Brooklyn-based writer whose work has appeared in Guernica, The Rumpus, and Cosmopolitan; she is the author of The Other Black Girl.

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The Silver Petticoat Review

‘Passing’ Movie Review: This New Period Drama on Netflix is a Masterpiece

Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga star in the new period drama adaptation of Nella Larsen's classic novel.

Passing Movie Review Pinterest image


Passing Movie Review featured image with Ruth Negga and Tessa Thompson

Rebecca Hall’s  Passing  is a movie that will stay with me for years. It expertly tackles the complex topics of race and identity in an intimate way. The film is based on Nella Larsen’s 1929 book of the same name, the title alluding to African Americans who could “pass” for white because of their light skin.


The period drama centers around two former childhood friends (both biracial) living in entirely different circumstances as adults in the 1920s. 

One, Irene (Tessa Thompson), lives happily in Harlem with her black husband, Brian Redfield (Andre Holland), while the other woman, Clare (Ruth Negga), passes as white and lives with her wealthy and racist husband, John Bellew (Alexander Skarsgård). 

Ruth Negga and Alexander Skarsgard

When they reconnect after many years, both of their worlds change – leading to a mutual obsession that ultimately results in tragedy.

Irene is both in awe and disgusted by Clare’s lifestyle. While Clare, on the other hand, envies the life Irene lives. As they become more enmeshed in each other’s lives, Irene becomes more antagonistic toward Clare and jealous – especially as Clare grows closer to her husband.

passing 2021 publicity still

But is Irene’s jealousy directed at her husband or with Clare? Is Irene attracted to Clare sexually and repulsed by it? While open to interpretation, it’s hard to ignore the longing glances, the touch of a hand, the subtextual dialogue, and camera movements suggesting as much. It has always been one interpretation of the novel – ambiguous as it is.


Tessa Thompson in Passing Movie

Passing  is written and directed by Rebecca Hall and stars Tessa Thompson, Ruth Negga, André Holland, Gbenga Akinnagbe, Bill Camp, Antoinette Crowe-Legacy, and Alexander Skarsgård.

But it’s the performances of Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga that carry the film.

Tessa Thompson gives one of her best performances as Irene, while Ruth Negga is luminescent in her role as Clare. Both actresses give performances so powerful; you can feel their emotions in every scene of the film.

Thompson has an incredible ability to make you feel Irene’s pain, her joys, her fears, her jealousies, all of it.

Ruth Negga in Passing Movie

Meanwhile, Negga manages to evoke several different emotions in  Passing  using an accent reminiscent of Judy Garland. While Thompson gives a showier, meatier performance, Negga is the one who haunts you. Her eyes convey every word she never says. It’s stunning to watch.

It would be impossible to imagine  Passing  not receiving some awards for the performances or Hall’s expert direction.


Besides the strong directing, excellent acting, and writing, the look of  Passing  is gorgeous. From the beautifully crafted costumes to the cinematography,  Passing  is a visual treat. Even the music score is good.

Hall chose to film the movie in black and white giving it an old Hollywood feel while also adding to its timelessness. Every scene captivated me, and by the end, I had more questions than answers! But that ambiguity in both the book and film makes it even more powerful as a narrative.

Fans of the novel will appreciate that Hall is faithful to it while also not shying away from highlighting themes relevant to the audience today.


passing movie with Ruth Negga and Tessa Thompson

Overall, Hall adapts the classic novel in a minimalist but effective style. If you appreciate artistic and thoughtful period dramas, then you must see  Passing . You won’t regret it.

Just be prepared for the dramatic ending! I’m still thinking about what happened days after watching the movie.

Content Note:  PG-13 for racial slurs – very mild.

Where to Watch:  Netflix

Have you watched the new  Passing  movie? What did you think of Rebecca Hall’s adaptation? Did you enjoy the film and performances? Do you agree with our movie review of Passing ? Discuss in the comments below!

Five corsets rating


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Amber works as a writer and digital publisher full-time and fell in love with stories and imagination at an early age. She has a Humanities and Film Degree from BYU, co-created The Silver Petticoat Review, contributed as a writer to various magazines, and has an MS in Publishing from Pace University, where she received the Publishing Award of Excellence and wrote her thesis on transmedia, Jane Austen, and the romance genre. Her ultimate dreams are publishing books, writing and producing movies, traveling around the world, and forming a creative village of talented storytellers trying to change the world through art.

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'The Marvels' review: If there is such a thing as chemistry, Brie Larson, Teyonah Parris and Iman Vellani have it

"The Marvels" stakes its hopes on a trio of female avengers in training.

Brie Larson, Teyonah Parris and Iman Vellani in a scene from "The Marvels."

The sisters are doing it for themselves in "The Marvels," now in theaters where it needs to convince audiences, suffering from Marvel fatigue, to take another chance on the MCU, a cinematic universe that's now 33 epics old and showing evidence of serious disrepair. I'm looking at you "Ant-Man 3" and "Thor: Love and Thunder."

Poised between goofy and godawful, "The Marvels," plagued by rewrites and reshoots, stakes its hopes on a trio of female avengers in training. If you're looking for riot girls on the march to empowerment, here's your movie.

Brie Larson is back as Carol Danvers, aka Captain Marvel. Never mind if you don't remember the 2019 film that bore her name, though you might wonder at Larson's career path since winning a 2016 Best Actress Oscar for "Room."

PHOTO: Iman Vellani as Ms. Marvel/Kamala Khan, Brie Larson as Captain Marvel/Carol Danvers, and Teyonah Parris as Captain Monica Rambeau in Marvel Studios' THE MARVELS.

That indie hit was small and indelible. "The Marvels, which reportedly cost $250 million, is huge and incoherent, with bargain-basement digital effects. We'll get to that and the question of why "The Marvels" feels so long when it's the shortest MCU epic ever at one hour and 45 minutes.

But first, let's play catch up. Our girl Carol is still fighting amnesia and hanging out on a spaceship with her Flerken feline Goose -- cue Barbra Streisand singing "Memory" from "Cats." I'm not kidding. There will be more tunes when everyone hits a water planet and goes all Broadway.

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I digress, but so does the movie. The plot thickens or congeals (you be the judge) when former S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) issues a distress call from a space station he occupies with astronaut captain Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris), Carol's niece. They've been estranged since the death of Monica's mother, Maria Rambeau, who was once Carol's BFF.

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And you won't forget Pakistani American teenager Kamala Khan, aka Ms. Marvel, Carol's Jersey City-based, Muslim fangirl-turned-superhero since she's played with star shine to spare by a dynamite Iman Vellani, who's currently acing it big time on the Disney+ series, "Ms. Marvel."

It would help if you watched that show, as well as "Loki," "Secret Invasion" and "WandaVision." But if life gets in the way of you staying crucially connected to the MCU, you should just keep your eye on Larson, Parris and Vellani as they unite as a force to take on the villainous Dar-Benn (Zawe Ashton), leader of the Kree (don't ask) and the victim of the script's worst generic writing.

PHOTO: Brie Larson, Teyonah Parris and Iman Vellani in a scene from "The Marvels."

Dar-Benn has a magic bangle -- Kamala has another -- that will help her destroy Carol and give the plot a vestige of narrative drive. But who are we kidding? What counts here is a trio of female warriors who unite as The Marvels to take on every global threat that director Nia DaCosta and co-writers Megan McDonnell and Elissa Karasik can throw at them.

This one throws a rip into the time-space continuum that causes the trio to swap places at random or whenever they use their powers at the same time, making the fight scenes even more of a jumble. Compensation comes in the expert teamwork of the three main players. If there is such a thing as chemistry, Larsen, Parris and Vellani have it.

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"The Marvels" has moments of inspired lunacy. But DaCosta, who excelled with her 2021 horror reboot of "Candyman," can't cope with the horror of a movie that sacrifices continuity, logic and purpose for its place in a limping universe that's grown too big for its own good. Marvel, once the spawner of glories, is stuck in a rut. The time for a rethink is now.

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Book Reviews

'passing' — the original 1929 novel — is disturbingly brilliant.

Carole V. Bell

review movie passing

Passing , by Nella Larsen Signet Classics hide caption

Passing , by Nella Larsen

Editor's note: This essay references a book whose title contains a racial slur.

The one thing most people know about Nella Larsen's Passing is that it explores a peculiar kind of deception — being born into one marginalized racial category and slipping into another, for privilege, security, or power. But the significance of Passing isn't found in the surface facts but in the brilliance of its execution: the beauty of the writing, the close character study, and the intense psychological suspense.

For writer-director Rebecca Hall, 'Passing' was a deeply personal project

Like a decades-early precursor to a Patricia Highsmith novel, a sense of sensual glamour, frustration and foreboding pervades Larsen's famed novella. In 1927 Chicago, two light-skinned Black women, childhood friends whose lives took different paths, meet again in a theoretically white space, and a strange friendship is renewed despite the danger that the connection might bring. For Irene Redfield, a proper Black doctor's wife and a doyenne of Harlem society, passing is a petty indulgence, something she dabbles in on occasion, for "the sake of convenience." Her racial dexterity gains her "restaurants, theater tickets, and things like that." But to beautiful, orphaned Clare Kendry, passing is a means of survival. Clare had a home with her white relatives who disdained her race; she wanted something more, and she grabbed it, making a permanent break.

It's an odd reunion of two very different women. One reckless, flirtatious and bold; the other contained, proper and guarded. Clare lives as white in a gilded cage, a fashionable beauty with a touch of what the book calls "the tar-brush," married to a racist boor who would definitely not approve of her past identity or her connections. And yet despite the precarity of her situation, Clare has agency. Her choices are borne of desperation and ambition, but in thumbing her nose at what's expected, she escapes the arbitrariness and slipperiness of racial categories. She also refuses to live by the rules of passing, refusing to fully leave the world she came from behind. When she runs into an old friend, the well-married Irene, it reignites a longing.

In contrast, Irene lives carefully within walls of her own construction. She is always watching what she does and what she says, even afraid her husband will tell her kids about the "racial problem." She's trying to shield them from ugliness, but thinking she can protect two Black boys in Harlem in 1927 from learning about racism is a signal that she's removed from reality.

The contrast, parallels, and interplay between these two women is part of what makes Passing so beautifully constructed. Every choice is finely calibrated. Their interactions are polite, but Larsen has a way of making the simplest observation feel like a prelude to horror:

The words came to Irene as she sat there on the Drayton roof, facing Clare Kendry. "A having way." Well, Irene acknowledged, judging from her appearance and manner, Clare seemed certainly to have succeeded in having a few of the things that she wanted.

J.P. Morgan's Personal Librarian Was A Black Woman. This Is Her Story.

J.P. Morgan's Personal Librarian Was A Black Woman. This Is Her Story.

'The Vanishing Half' Counts The Terrible Costs Of Bigotry And Secrecy

'The Vanishing Half' Counts The Terrible Costs Of Bigotry And Secrecy

"Seemed" is doing a lot of work in that paragraph. Clare seems to have gotten what she wanted but there's more going on below the surface. Clare's unfettered sexual magnetism and Irene's simmering sexual jealousy adds yet another dimension.

Time and again, alongside the social aspects which remain chillingly relevant, it's Larsen's artistry that leaps out: specifically her masterful handling of plotting, character and mood. She seamlessly blends genre elements into a literary novella about race. The language and iconography of suspense and horror are there from the beginning. Some of the mood-making is subtle; Irene's mindset gets increasingly tense as her liaison with Clare deepens and she begins to feel that the glamorous interloper is threatening the life she's built.

At other times, Larsen is bold, putting the vernacular of the Gothic into Irene's head, invoking "dread," "foreboding," and even "horror." Then there's the foreshadowing in Clare's hysterical speech, how she frames herself as a threat in conversation with Irene: "Can't you realize that I'm not like you a bit? Why, to get the things I want badly enough, I'd do anything, hurt anybody, throw anything away. Really, 'Rene, I'm not safe." Or the cold feeling that runs through Irene on the street, just after she meets Clare's husband:

A slight shiver ran over her. "It's nothing," she told herself. "Just somebody walking over my grave, as the children say."

Published in 1929, during the Harlem Renaissance — a movement its author was deeply entrenched in — Passing caused more of a ripple than a sensation at its release, with critical acclaim far outstripping its sales. (In deliberate provocation, and recalling Carl Van Vechten's controversial novel about Harlem Nigger Heaven of three years earlier, Passing's original intended title was simply Nig .) The influential sociologist W.E.B. Du Bois reviewed it favorably in the NAACP's Crisis magazine. Calling Passing one of the finest novels of the year, Du Bois wrote that Larsen explained "the psychology of the thing; the reaction of it on friend and enemy. It is a difficult task, but she attacks the problem fearlessly and with consummate art."

Nearly one hundred years later, those contributions remain. In 19th and early 20th century literature, the "tragic mulatto" was a stock figure, a person of mixed background whose African heritage and longing for a white existence causes great isolation and suffering. Despite having similar contours, Larsen's novel was a pivotal step beyond those characterizations. Deftly juggling the psychological closeup and the bigger picture, Larsen dips into, contradicts, and complicates that worn image while also bringing to life Du Bois' concept of double consciousness . Larsen shows how intimate choices are bound up in social forces while endowing her characters with indelible specificity. As her last published novel, that is quite a legacy.

A slow runner and fast reader, Carole V. Bell is a cultural critic and communication scholar focusing on media, politics and identity. You can find her on Twitter @BellCV .

  • Cast & crew

World Premiere

  • Episode aired Nov 13, 2023

Anjo Damiles in Stolen Life (2023)

After the passing of her parents, Lucy is taken under the custody of her uncle, Lorenzo (William Lorenzo). It doesn't take her long to discover her talent for astral projection. After the passing of her parents, Lucy is taken under the custody of her uncle, Lorenzo (William Lorenzo). It doesn't take her long to discover her talent for astral projection. After the passing of her parents, Lucy is taken under the custody of her uncle, Lorenzo (William Lorenzo). It doesn't take her long to discover her talent for astral projection.

  • Jerry Lopez Sineneng
  • Lobert Villela
  • Tina Samson-Velasco
  • Angeli Delgado
  • Gabby Concepcion
  • Beauty Gonzalez
  • Carla Abellana
  • See production info at IMDbPro

Gabby Concepcion

  • Darius Rigor

Beauty Gonzalez

  • Vince Rigor

Patricia Ismael

  • (as Patricia Ysmael)

Divine Aucina

  • Sister Rosa
  • (as Mariz Ricketts)
  • (credit only)

William Lorenzo

  • Lucy's Father
  • (uncredited)

Dennah Bautista

  • Young Farrah

Cassandra Lavarias

  • Lucy's Mother
  • All cast & crew
  • Production, box office & more at IMDbPro

Did you know

  • Soundtracks Kilala ng puso Performed by Mariane Osabel Composed and arranged by Ann Margaret Figueroa Mix engineered by Harry Bernardino (as Harry A. Bernardino)

User reviews

  • November 13, 2023 (Philippines)
  • Philippines
  • See more company credits at IMDbPro

Technical specs

  • Runtime 29 minutes

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Anjo Damiles in Stolen Life (2023)

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