The primary time I used to be launched to Nella Larsen’s 1929 novel, “Passing,” I used to be an undergrad in Florida within the early ’90s. As a Black British lady, raised in South Florida with Jamaican-born dad and mom (certainly one of whom is of Cuban descent), I didn’t match right into a neat class of ethnicity. Larsen’s story about two biracial girls — Clare Kendry selecting to “cross” for white and Irene Redfield intentionally staying inside the Black group — helped me perceive, significantly at a time when many younger individuals are present process self-discovery, the intricacy of who I used to be.
Now Netflix’s adaptation of the novel, which will probably be out there for streaming Wednesday, is coming at a time when America is confronted with understanding who it is. When you’ve got written off “Passing” as only a historic movie, one that may solely deliver to life scenes that you simply imagined as you flipped by way of Larsen’s novel, it is best to rethink. It has the potential to be far more than that, significantly when the dialogue of race and deconstructing the way it’s woven into each a part of our society is on the forefront of our collective minds, much more fervently prior to now yr.
Right this moment the themes of the film increase the query of why white folks seemingly attempt to “cross” as Black on goal.
By way of the beautiful efficiency of Ruth Negga, who performs Clare, we see the bordering-on-obsessive habits of a white-passing lady fixated on the Black group she has deserted for a assured probability at social mobility. Relatively than depart her outdated life behind for good, Clare develops a compulsive must revisit her outdated life, irrespective of the danger, after an opportunity assembly with Irene (performed by the equally fascinating Tessa Thompson). She turns into much less and fewer glad together with her assumed id and life.
Viewers ought to acknowledge a nagging conundrum right here that has come up all too usually at the moment: Many white folks perceive, in comparison with their Black counterparts, the privilege they’ve in America — to be paid extra, to be much less prone to be traumatized by police encounters, to get unbiased care by medical professionals, to not be undervalued in the actual property market — however some stay obsessive about Black tradition, leaching from it after they instantly see worth in it.
Clare feeds insatiably on her relationship with Irene, her household and the Black group of upper-class Harlem. She is all the time wanting extra, even when it means not solely her personal impending destruction but additionally that of her pal Irene. We get a glimpse of this throughout a dialog between Irene and her white novelist pal Hugh Wentworth (Invoice Camp). Irene muses: “It’s straightforward for a Negro to cross for white. I’m undecided if it will be so easy for a white particular person to cross for coloured.”
Nonetheless, at the moment examples of white folks appropriating Blackness abound, from Rachel Dolezal’s claiming to be “transracial” and posing as a Black lady for many years to Instagram stars’ overzealously tanning, sporting historically recognized Black hairstyles, like field braids, and mimicking the most recent African American vernacular in a much-derided development known as “Blaccent.”
Within the age of social media, particularly prior to now yr, there’s a heightened consciousness of not solely the importance of racial id and Black tradition but additionally the hazard introduced by being Black in America, exhibited within the circumstances of racial profiling with lethal penalties. The lived realities of being Black in America have made situations of “Blackfishing” much more upsetting, rightfully triggering backlash. This additionally provides yet one more dimension to the dialog of racial id: Black folks handed as white to flee oppression in post-Reconstruction America, however at the moment the themes of the film increase the query of why white folks seemingly attempt to “cross” as Black on goal.
For Black girls, who’ve a novel historical past of being silenced, which is explored within the themes of “Passing,” erasure is a constant menace.
Not too long ago, Kylie Jenner has been known as out for Blackfishing after she posted pictures on social media, the place her complexion seems unnaturally darkish from make-up or tanning. And this isn’t the primary time. Singer Jesy Nelson was known as out for doing the identical within the music video for her current single, “Boyz.”
However why does that matter? It issues as a result of erasing the origins of what’s uniquely Black tradition marginalizes the Black expertise. For Black girls, who’ve a novel historical past of being silenced, which is explored within the themes of “Passing,” erasure is a constant menace.
Kim Kardashian was famously criticized a couple of years in the past for incorrectly asserting that cornrow braids had been originated by Bo Derek within the Nineteen Seventies quite than crediting their historic West African origin.
With the arrival of social media, Black girls’s voices and types have usually been both erased or appropriated and commodified for revenue. Because of this Black girls on the TikTok social media platform staged a strike this summer time, refusing to submit dance movies to protest not getting credit score for his or her choreography. Black creators even went so far as to pursue copyright safety for his or her content material.
These are the moments that — below the highly effective debut route of Rebecca Corridor, who takes us on a visually beautiful journey illustrating the complexity of the phenomenon of Black folks “passing” for white — viewers have a second to re-examine.
In a single poignant change between Irene and her husband, Brian Redfield (André Holland), she says, “You’d assume they might be glad being white.” Brian responds, “Who’s glad being something?”
That scene and lots of others will problem viewers to confront uncomfortable truths about how race, with all of the nuances hooked up to it, isn’t one thing that has stayed within the distant previous.
As is so exquisitely and painfully depicted within the stark black-and-white pictures within the cinematography of “Passing,” for Black folks then and even now, racial id is just not a assemble that may be assumed and deserted as simply as posting a TikTok video. And because the film hurtles towards its stunning but additionally virtually foregone conclusion, we are able to’t assist however be left to surprise about Clare’s underlying true motives. We ponder the dire circumstances that might drive somebody to danger all of it to imagine one other racial id, to not improve follower rely or for likes however for an elusive probability at a cheerful life.