Review: ‘Passing’ is a Gentle, but Nuanced Directorial Debut from Rebecca Hall

Passing opens with a woman shopping in the sweltering heat of New York City in the 1920s. 

Irene goes to a tea room in a beautiful hotel to recover from the oppressive sun outside and is unnerved when another well-dressed woman keeps staring at her. 

Irene (Tessa Thompson) is demure, her every movement filled with grace, and the beginning of the film is quiet and delicate to match. 

But there’s a tension in the air that the audience can feel despite being unaware of the cause.  

It is only later that the audience will realize that Irene’s anxiety is because is concerned that someone has seen through. 

She is passing: the practice of a person of color passing off as white, typically to be allowed into a space in which they would otherwise not be welcome.