Sundance Movie Passing Explores Dressing Across Racial Lines

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“Why is your skin so light?”

“Aren’t you supposed to be Black?”

“What are you . . . half white?”

As a first-generation American born to South African mother and father — a father with darkish pores and skin and a mom with mild pores and skin — my olive complexion causes confusion frequently. And I’m not alone. Light-skinned Black folks and racially ambiguous persons are typically misunderstood and confused for various races. This is the plot of Passing, a brand new drama about two biracial girls who “pass” as white to various levels, which just lately premiered on the Sundance Film Festival.

Directed by English actress Rebecca Hall, the movie relies on the acclaimed 1929 novel by Nella Larsen. It follows Clare Kendry (Ruth Negga) and Irene Redfield (Tessa Thompson), two childhood buddies who serendipitously reconnect of their grownup lives. Set in Twenties New York, each girls select to reside on reverse sides of the colour line: Clare opts to “pass” as white for the sake of privilege, whereas Irene proudly wears her Blackness.

For the uninitiated, the act of “passing” is when an individual who’s falsely seen as a member of 1 racial group is wholly embraced as a part of that racial group. Throughout historical past, many Black men and women have chosen to move as white so as to escape persecution and, primarily, to be handled with dignity in a predominately white society. In different phrases, Black individuals who might move as white typically did so to make sure higher lives by liberating themselves of the cruel restrictions unfairly positioned on them.

Black individuals who might move as white typically did so to make sure higher lives by liberating themselves of the cruel restrictions unfairly positioned on them.

And Clare has comparable reasoning for passing. While efficiently posing as white, she finds security and safety by marrying John (Alexander Skarsgård), a rich and revered white man, and later provides start to a daughter with honest pores and skin, who additionally passes as white. But when Clare in the end reunites with Irene years later, she longs to see what life is like on the opposite (learn: Black) facet. Fearful of being caught by her racist husband, Clare sneaks round with Irene to golf equipment and events in Harlem so she will get her Black woman repair.

The film is superbly shot in black and white, which has the impact of diminishing the impression of pores and skin tone on display screen. As a end result, we’re instantly dialed into what it means to decorate your self throughout racial traces. “I was very strategic when selecting Clare and Irene’s wardrobes,” mentioned costume designer Marci Rodgers. “I wanted to delineate the difference between their worlds.” Unfortunately, years of discrimination have conditioned Black folks to rigorously think about their clothes when getting into a special (typically white) setting. Black males and boys cannot merely put on hoodies or dishevelled denims outdoors with out attracting unwarranted consideration. Black girls are objectified when their curves are uncovered in formfitting clothes. We see Irene comfortably dressed down at house, typically in a wool skirt and a mint inexperienced shirt, versus en plein air, the place she’ll outfit herself in structured coats, opulent solar hats, gloves, pearls, and excessive heels. When Irene will get dressed, she has to consider the place she’s going, the time of day, and the those who may be there, lest she be thought-about lesser than. “While Irene could pass for white, [her wardrobe] wasn’t something she used as a weakness, but instead as a way to survive,” Rodgers added.

In the true world, the dialogue round presentability because it pertains to Black girls is as irritating as it’s tiresome. We are advised our hair is wild and unkempt; we’re inspired to point out as much as work with neat locks to slot in, or adhere to a cultured uniform within the presence of authority figures to show our credibility. It’s apparent that each Clare and Irene hail from the identical financial strata, however Irene’s unwavering consideration to her wardrobe and look stems from her information that Black persons are judged extra by how we glance than who we’re.

The dialogue round presentability because it pertains to Black girls is as irritating as it’s tiresome.

What’s ironic is that the precise colours black and white additionally carry which means inside this difficult historical past. The coloration black signifies thriller and the unknown in addition to insecurity, weak point, and a insecurity, in accordance with Brittanica, whereas white symbolizes innocence, purity, and cleanliness. I hardly assume it is a coincidence — systemic racism is constructed into so many racial biases that also permeate society immediately. Since clothes typically tells the story of a personality, Irene’s uneasiness round her white counterparts is mirrored in her Twenties-style hats that always fall down previous her eyes. By distinction, Clare’s regal outfits exude confidence. Irene’s wardrobe is extra than simply one thing to put on — it is an try to take away any preconceived notions about Black girls. In some ways, her clothes is her armor. “When you wear certain things, it’s either to deflect or invite a certain type of attention,” Rodgers mentioned. “At the end of the day, for Irene, it was a survival tactic.”

On quite a few events, we see Clare and Irene get dolled up for nights out, however the nuances of Irene’s getting-ready routine could also be undetectable to some. In America, the place folks of coloration are sometimes judged harshly and shortly, appearances are paramount for the Black neighborhood. Irene, like many Black girls I do know, will get dressed to the nines not solely to precise her Black satisfaction, but additionally to have a way of management in a world the place she is dehumanized and made to really feel invisible virtually each day.

As a lot as Clare tried, obscuring her heritage didn’t free her from its chains. In reality, in the end (spoiler alert) it killed her. To me, Clare’s demise was symbolic of the suffocation that comes with carrying a false masks. By socializing with Irene, Clare was in a position to see all that she was lacking — the neighborhood, the tradition, all of it. She lastly felt liberated, joyful, and proud to be surrounded by her folks, a lot in order that she began questioning why she turned her again on them within the first place.

Passing is a poignant reminder to these of us who’re totally different that our variations are what make us particular and distinctive. It’s an important reminder to desert all preconceived labels and reside your genuine fact. It jogged my memory to rejoice who I’m: a light-skinned Black girl who does not want to suit right into a stereotypical field of what it means to look Black, to be Black. Translation: I can gown nevertheless I would like.

Image Source: Edu Grau



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