Sound journalism, grounded in facts and Biblical truth | Donate

Between worlds

Two African American women balance precarious existences in the period film Passing


Between worlds
You have {{ remainingArticles }} free {{ counterWords }} remaining. You've read all of your free articles.

Full access isn’t far.

We can’t release more of our sound journalism and commentary without a subscription, but we can make it easy for you to come aboard.

Get into news that is grounded in facts and Biblical truth for as low as $3.99 per month.

Current WORLD subscribers can log in to access content. Just go to "SIGN IN" at the top right.


Already a member? Sign in.

Passing, now available on Netflix, is Rebecca Hall’s adaptation of Nella Larsen’s novel of the same name. Set in 1920s Harlem and surrounding Manhattan neighborhoods, the film focuses on two childhood friends who reunite after several years. Both are light-skinned, affluent black women who pass as white, but with very different degrees of daring. When Irene (Tessa Thompson) shops at white stores, she pulls her short-brimmed cloche over her eyes. Clare (Ruth Negga) sports a blond bob everywhere she goes and is even married to a hateful white man (Alexander Skarsgård) who’s unaware of her heritage.

Hall, making her directorial debut, drapes Passing in the hushed tones of a somber stage play. Shot in black-and-white, the camera focused on the actors, the film slowly unveils what viewers sense from the 20-minute opening scene: a Shakespearean tragedy waiting in the wings.

It’s Clare’s understandable desire for the companionship of other black people that precipitates multiple worlds toward collision. She begins spending time at Irene’s home and attending Harlem’s jazzy social events. In mixed company, the women navigate their shared secrets with knowing glances. Still, Clare’s risky outings strain Irene. Throughout the film, Irene pants for air, exhausted by Sisyphean efforts to protect the ones she loves: her husband (André Holland) from the beautiful Clare’s attention, her two young boys from dinner-table talk of lynchings, and Clare from the cost of freedom. The ending suggests Hall sees no hope for those passing between worlds.

Bob Brown

Bob is a movie reviewer for WORLD. He is a World Journalism Institute graduate and works as a math professor. Bob resides with his wife, Lisa, and five kids in Bel Air, Md.



Please wait while we load the latest comments...


Please register, subscribe, or login to comment on this article.