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Sundance Film Festival 2021 Reviews: Passing

Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga both shine on screen with their pure chemistry in this gorgeous black and white film — Passing.


Ruth Negga and Tessa Thompson appear in Passing by Rebecca Hall, an official selection of the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Edu Grau.

Passing was one of my most anticipated films of Sundance and it did not disappoint. This movie is absolutely stunning to watch. Shot in all black and white, which helps to elevate the story, but also just make every shot gorgeous to look at. Passing tells a a complicated story about race, love, and social standing. Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga both shine — their chemistry on film is amazing. A brilliant movie from beginning to end.

Passing focuses on two young women who are African American and live in New York. They both can “pass” as white women, but the two choose to be on opposite sides of the color line. They went to school together and when they see each other both trying to fool others, they start catching up. Things quickly develop as this renewed relationship threatens them both. This feels like a very unique film, and correct me if I am wrong, but is it one of the first movies to go down this road?

As the story unfolds, viewers are sure to get sucked in more and more – out of concern for them both, as well as being interested in all the drama it is creating. You see, Irene’s husband is African American, but Clare’s is white, and doesn’t know her true race. The two women spend more and more time together as the film goes on, which puts them both at risk.

Passing touches on race and social standing — although just barely dipping its toes into them both. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as it really works with the story we are given. I believe that bringing more into these issues than we got would have thrown off the movie all together. 

I have seen others say there were pacing issues, but for me, the way the story worked itself slowly to a climatic ending worked. Without giving spoilers I will say that the ending made me want to start the movie all over again, just to watch it all play out again — while taking a deeper look at things I might have missed. 

About Passing

Irene Redfield (Tessa Thompson), a refined, upper-class 1920s woman, finds breezy refuge from a hot summer day in the grand tearoom of New York City’s Drayton Hotel. Across the room, she spots a blond woman staring her down. Irene wants to steal away, but before she can, Clare Kendry (Ruth Negga) rushes over to stop her. It turns out the two were in high school together, and while both are African American women who can “pass” as white, they have chosen to live on opposite sides of the color line. Now, their renewed acquaintance threatens them both.