Why Rebecca Hall’s Passing Lacks An Esoteric Perspective But Inspires A Courageous Conversation

A Curious Lens to Examine A Contentious Subject

Robin A Henderson

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Image by Netflix

Every critic has an opinion about Passing. And many of them miss the point.

“In Netflix’s ‘Passing,’ Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga play with racial ambiguity.” — NPR

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

“Passing review — Rebecca Hall’s stylish and subtle study of racial identity” — The Guardian

‘Passing’ Review: Rebecca Hall’s Subtle, Provocative Directorial Debut” — Variety

This is how these reviews appear in google searches, with one exception. NPR’s Karen Grigsby Bates used a different title in her review, “In Rebecca Hall’s ‘Passing,’ people aren’t always who they seem.”

Bates, a female African-American journalist, chronicles her personal experience with passing in the review. The other three reviewers are two American white men and a European woman.

Sociologists define the acct of passing as the ability of a person to be regarded as a member of an identity group or category, often different from their own. This includes racial identity, ethnicity, caste, and social class.

Bates uses phrases like “No thanks” and “My jaw dropped.” Her review is matter-of-fact, skeptical, and disapproving of both the act of passing and Hall’s depiction of it in the film. The other reviewers are more ambiguous and non-committal.

I’m not saying white people can’t review Black-centric films. I am saying that passing is a deep-rooted issue that requires a specific lens.

Passing is when someone deliberately hides their true identity.

Imagine you’re in a social setting where you encounter someone whose racial identity is unclear. You don’t dare ask them outright…

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Robin A Henderson

I write about inclusive storytelling in Hollywood and diverse representation in wellness.