How ‘Passing’ Helped Tell a Story of American Colorism

Rebecca Hall made her directorial debut with Passing, a film based off of the 1929 novel of the same name by Nella Larsen. The film tells a story of two black women living in the 1920’s, one in Harlem and the other passing for a white woman uptown. 

According to The Hollywood Reporter, “Hall, who has a multiracial grandfather who passed for white, “staffed her crew with such Black women as costume designer Marci Rodgers, hair department head Barbara Roman and production designer Nora Mendis, who share a personal connection to the themes, setting and original novel on which Passing is based.”

PASSING (L to R) TESSA THOMPSON as IRENE, RUTH NEGGA as CLARE and DIRECTOR REBECCA HALL. Cr: Emily V. Aragones/Netflix © 2021

The Hollywood Reporter highlighted the three women and spoke to each about their career and their journey as Black women in Hollywood. “Nora Mendis first read Passing in college at Tufts, where she was studying painting and film at its School of the Museum of Fine Arts. “It blew my mind,” says the D.C.-born, Chicago-raised designer, who is the daughter of an interracial couple and identifies as Black. “My grandmother had people in the family who passed. They were coming for Thanksgiving a bunch of years, and then they just stopped and were gone. There’s a fair amount of bitterness in the loss that happens there, on both sides of the coin.”

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