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Starring: Tessa Thompson, Ruth Negga, André Holland, Bill Camp, Gbenga Akinnagbe, Antoinette Crowe-Legacy, Alexander Skarsgård
OUR RATING: ★★★½
Netflix drama written and directed by Rebecca Hall. Set during the height of the Harlem Renaissance in late 1920s New York, Passing (2021) centers on childhood friends, Irene (Tessa Thompson) and Clare (Ruth Negga), who can “pass” as white but choose to live on opposite sides of the color line. Clare has married a prejudiced, but wealthy white man, John (Alexander Skarsgård), and after a chance encounter reunites the former childhood friends, Irene reluctantly allows Clare into her home, where she ingratiates herself to Irene’s husband, Brian (André Holland), and family, and soon her larger social circle as well. As their lives become more deeply intertwined, Irene finds her once-steady existence upended by Clare, and the story examines the obsession, repression and the lies people tell themselves and others to protect their carefully constructed realities.
Our Favorite Quotes:'I'm beginning to believe that no one is ever completely happy, free, or safe.' - Irene (Passing) Click To Tweet
Clare: Pardon me. I don’t mean to stare. But I think I know you.
Irene: I’m afraid you’re mistaken.
Clare: No, of course I know you, Rene. You look just the same. Tell me, do they still call you Rene?
Irene: Yes, though no one’s called me that for a long time.
Clare: [to Irene] You know, since I’ve been here, I’ve hoped I might run into someone. Preferably you though. And now you’re here. I’ll wager you haven’t given me a thought.
Clare: My husband John’s here on business. Banking business. In this heat! Can you imagine?
Irene: That was your husband?
Clare: We’re here quite often. And if this trip goes well, well, John’s quite sure we’ll move. It’s my dream to come back, Rene.
Irene: I’m sure.
Irene: [referring to John] Clare, does he…
[Clare shakes her head]
Clare: Boys. Oh, I’d love boys. I’d never risk it again though. I went through hell those nine months for fear Margery might turn out dark.
Irene: Mine are dark.
Clare: Oh. And your husband, he…
Irene: He couldn’t exactly pass, if that’s what you mean.
Clare: So you haven’t ever thought to?
Clare: I’m asking if you ever thought of passing, Rene.
Irene: No, why should I? I mean, for convenience, occasionally, I suppose. But no. I just mean I have everything I’ve ever wanted. Except perhaps a little more money.
Clare: Of course. That’s all anybody ever wants, a little more money. Money’s an awfully nice thing to have. In fact, all things considered, I think it’s entirely worth the price.
Clare: What are you thinking, Rene? You’re curious, is that it? You can ask me anything. Anything you want.
Irene: What have you told him, of your family?
Clare: You know, I haven’t had to worry as much as you’d think.
Irene: And you’re happy?
Clare: Of course, Rene. As you say, I have everything I ever wanted.
Irene: I’m sorry, Clare, that was rude of me. Of course you’re happy. Look at you.
John: [referring to Clare] When we were first married, this woman was as white as a lily. But as the years go by, she seems to be getting darker and darker. So I told her, “If you don’t look out, you’ll wake up one morning, and find that you’ve turned into a n*****.” Yeah. She’s been Nig ever since.
Clare: My goodness, John! After all these years, what would it matter if you found out that I was one or two percent colored, hmm?
John: Well, you can turn as black as you please, as far as I’m concerned. I know you’re not colored.
Irene: So you dislike N****es, Mr. Bellew?
John: No, no, no, not at all. I hate them. But not as much as Nig does, for all she’s trying to turn into one. Why, she won’t have them near her, not even as a maid. Isn’t that true?
Irene: Have you ever known any N****es?
John: No, no, no. But I do know people who know them. And I read about them in the papers, of course.
Irene: [referring to Clare] Brian, I’m not going to see her.
Brian: I thought you said you two were good friends in school.
Irene: Brian, darling, I’d have to be an idiot not to realize if a man calls me a you-know-what, it’s his fault the first time, but mine if I give him the opportunity to do it again.
Brian: [reading Clare’s letter to Irene] “You can’t know how in this pale life of mine, I am all the time seeing the bright pictures of that other that I thought I was so glad to be free of.
Brian: [reading from Clare’s letter] “It may be, Rene dear, that your way may be the wiser, and infinitely happier one.”
Irene: I’m flattered. Wiser. As if anything could rectify the humiliation…
Brian: Wait, wait. There’s more. “I wouldn’t feel this wild desire if I hadn’t seen you.” That’s rich. Blaming you.
Brian: [referring to John] What you so angry for anyhow? Husband didn’t call you a…
Irene: No, but he would have. And it amounts to the same thing.
Brian: It has, you will admit, its humorous side.
Irene: No, I won’t. It’s not funny at all. It’s revolting.
Irene: They have to work so hard at getting there, why would they want to come back?
Brian: If I knew that, I’d know what race is.
Irene: You’d think they’d be satisfied being white.
Brian: Rot! Who’s satisfied being anything?
Irene: I am.
Irene: Satisfied. I am.
'We're all of us passing for something or other. Aren't we?' - Irene (Passing) Click To Tweet
Clare: Why didn’t you write to me, Rene?
Irene: Well, you see, I can’t help thinking that you ought not to come up here.
Clare: You mean you don’t want me here.
Irene: No. Just what I said. You ought not to run the risk. It’s terribly foolish. You must see that. And, well, just not the right thing.
Irene: I mean, it isn’t safe.
Irene: To come up here. Considering what I saw of Mr. Bellew’s attitude.
Clare: Oh, of course. I understand. And I don’t blame you for being angry, Rene.
Clare: You acted beautifully that day, really beautifully. Thank you.
Irene: I don’t want thanks.
Clare: I just mean that it was very kind of you to be so delicate about it.
Irene: What other option did I have, Clare? I have been furious at you. Really furious. Putting me in that position.
Irene: And honestly, I can’t see why you wouldn’t understand why I wouldn’t write.
Clare: Foolish of me.
Irene: Why I wouldn’t want anything to do with you!
Irene: The truth is I’m very glad to see you, Clare. Very.
Clare: Oh, and I you, Rene. You can’t imagine. Without that day, I would’ve got to the end, unable to speak to anyone. You can’t know. Never anyone to really talk to.
Irene: It was insensitive of me not to think about that.
Clare: Oh, I don’t expect you to understand.
Clare: You’re happy. You have a true, good life. And you’re free. Free and safe. Safe. I don’t even know what that is anymore.
Irene: I’m beginning to believe that no one is ever completely happy, free, or safe.
Irene: You have a child, Clare. It’s not just a matter of your safety.
Clare: I think being a mother is the cruelest thing in the world.
Irene: Yes. And the most responsible.
Clare: Curious to me. A man like that going to a N**** dance.
Irene: Hundreds of white people like Hugh come to affairs in Harlem now
Irene: Same reason you’re here. To see N****es.
Clare: Damn John! He gets in the way of everything I want. I could kill him.
Irene: I wouldn’t. There’s still capital punishment in this state, at least.
Clare: I want so much to be around N****es again. Talk with them, hear them laugh. I’ve almost forgotten it.