Clare (Ruth Negga) and Irene (Tessa Thompson) both have mixed-race backgrounds. They went to school together in Chicago and then went their separate ways.
More than a decade after finishing school, in the late 1920s, they have a chance encounter in New York, where Irene is now married to a Black doctor, Brian (André Holland). Clare, on the other hand, ‘passes’ as a white woman and keeps her Black background secret from her white, racist husband, John (Alexander Skarsgård).
Clare enjoys the advantages and comforts of passing as white, but she feels a growing urge to reconnect with her roots. She starts to spend more time with Irene, who’s actively involved in the Negro Welfare League. Tensions emerge and rise as social butterfly Clare turns heads in Irene’s circles – including Brian’s – and the risk of her being found out by her prejudiced husband grows.
Black and white; racism; African-American culture
Passing has some violence. For example:
- Violence against minorities isn’t depicted directly, but characters talk about racially motivated violence towards Black people. This includes false allegations and lynching.
- When John finds out that Clare has a mixed-race background, he verbally abuses her. He storms towards her and pushes her. She falls out a window to her death.
There are no sexual references in Passing.
Alcohol, drugs and other substances
Passing shows some use of substances. For example, adults drink alcohol and smoke cigarettes.
Nudity and sexual activity
Passing has some nudity and sexual activity. For example, Irene and Brian kiss and embrace intimately.
Passing has no product placement.
Passing has some coarse language, including ‘goddammit’. There’s also some derogatory language used towards Black people, including the n-word.
Ideas to discuss with your children
Passing is based on Nella Larsen’s 1929 novella of the same title. It’s shot entirely in black and white, which both accentuates and blurs the skin tones that are at the heart of the movie’s story. Even though the movie is set nearly 100 years ago in the United States, its themes of racism and identity are as relevant as ever.
The subtle style, slow pace and aesthetics of Passing are likely to appeal most to a mature audience. Mature themes, like implied violence towards minorities, make the movie unsuitable for young children and warrant parental guidance for children aged under 13 years.
These are the main messages from Passing:
- You can never entirely turn your back on your background.
- Money and comfort don’t automatically lead to happiness.
Values in Passing that you could reinforce with your children include:
- exploration of your own identity
- acceptance of and respect for minorities
- awareness of and sensitivity to diversity.
Passing could also give you the chance to talk with your children about the real-life consequences of things like keeping major secrets from loved ones. This can become a very heavy burden.