EXCLUSIVE: Rebecca Hall has set up Passing, an adaptation based on Nella Larsen’s 1920s Harlem Renaissance novel that explores the practice of racial passing, a term used for a person classified as a member of one racial group who seeks to be accepted by a different racial group. Hall has penned the script and will direct in her feature helming debut, with Westworld star Tessa Thompson and Oscar nominee Ruth Negga attached to star in the film.
Margot Hand of Picture Films and Oren Moverman of Sight Unseen are producing, with Angela Robinson serving as executive producer.
First published in 1929, Passing follows the unexpected reunion of two high school friends, Clare Kendry (Negga) and Irene Redfield (Thompson), whose renewed acquaintance ignites a mutual obsession that threatens both of their carefully constructed realities.
Larsen, who also wrote the 1928 novel Quicksand, is regarded as a central figure in American modernism, and her work continues to be the subject of scholarly analysis.
“Nella Larsen’s Passing is an astonishing book about two women struggling not just with what it meant to be black in America in 1929, but with gender conventions, the performance of femininity, the institution of marriage, the responsibilities of motherhood, and the ways in which all of those forces intersect,” Hall said. “I came across the novel at a time when I was trying to reckon creatively with some of my personal family history, and the mystery surrounding my bi-racial grandfather on my American mother’s side. In part, making this film is an exploration of that history, to which I’ve never really had access.”
Hall, who has been lauded for her performance in films like Vicky Cristina Barcelona and Antonio Campos’ biopic Christine, recently starred in the Robinson-written and -directed Professor Marston and the Wonder Women.
“Rebecca Hall is a brilliant artist who I’ve had the pleasure of working with and I’ve loved the Nella Larson novella, Passing since I first read it many years ago. When Rebecca told me about her family history and her passion to tell this story, I immediately signed on to help bring her vision of this incredible book to the screen,” said Robinson.
Thompson, who can currently be seen in the Boots Riley-directed pic Sorry to Bother You, is in production on Men In Black 3 for Sony and stars opposite Michael B. Jordan in Creed 2. Negga received an Oscar nom for her portrayal of Mildred Loving in the biopic Loving and up next stars in the upcoming James Gray’s sci-fi film Ad Astra with Brad Pitt and Tommy Lee Jones.
Hall is repped by Julian Belfrage Associates and WME; Negga is with ICM Partners, Markham Froggatt, and Irwin, and Principal Entertainment; Thompson is repped by Greene & Associates, Mosaic, and attorney Jeffrey Bernstein.
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