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Entertainment Rebecca Hall details legacy of biracial relatives 'passing' as white

13:50  27 october  2021
13:50  27 october  2021 Source:   dailymail.co.uk

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Rebecca Hall has detailed the agonising legacy her biracial mother Maria Ewing and grandfather 'passing' themselves off as white had on her family in a candid new interview.

The 39-year-old actress' family's own complex biracial history inspired her directorial debut, Passing, about two light-skinned Black women who 'pass' as white.

Hall is the daughter of white British director Sir Peter Hall and Detroit-born opera singer Maria, 71, whose mother was white Dutch and father was of African American, and possibly Sioux Native American and white European descent.

Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga join Rebecca hall for a screening

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Like the characters in Passing, Hall's maternal grandfather Norman Isaac Ewing, who died in 1968, spent his life 'passing' as a white man and raised his children, including Maria, as white.

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Speaking to the Guardian, the star said growing up in a family who had a history of 'passing' led to 'inheriting shame, not pride.'

She said: 'I think in any family that has a legacy of passing, it’s very tricky, because, sadly, you inherit all of the shame and none of the pride.'

Rebecca added that she felt further shame as she grew up within the upper class echelons due to her parents' success in the entertainment field.

She said: 'I was in these fancy private English boarding schools and everyone gets picked up in Range Rovers, y’know? I’m going to and fro in a taxi and everyone looks at my mother and it’s like, "Isn’t she exotic!’”

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'The most articulate way I can describe it is that if you’re in a Black family and a member leaves and crosses the colour line, you don’t ever see them as white, even if all the white people see it. And that’s the perspective that I wanted the audience to see it from.'

The theme was explored in Nella Larsen's 1929 novella, Passing, on which Hall's film is based.

It centres on the friendship of Irene (Tessa Thompson) and Clare (Ruth Negga), two light-skin Black women who both 'pass' - intentionally and unintentionally - as white in 1920s New York.

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Rebecca said her mother Maria felt like the film was a 'late in life gift' for her and Norman and a 'huge release' for him and 'what he could not say.'

Earlier this month Hall discussed her grandfather in an interview with Screen Daily, saying  'He was almost definitely African American. I say he passed for white; there was no language for that within even my family… it was it was mysterious even for [my mother] and complicated for her.

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The upcoming movie initially premiered at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival in January, but will be available at select theaters starting October 27.

Rebecca admitted it was a battle to get the film made, with the completed screenplay sitting in a drawer for six years, with a further seven years spent in financing and production.

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She said: 'When I first started showing [the screenplay] to people, everyone said, "Oh, it’s extraordinary! It’s really wonderful! So, so delicate!" And then there would be a pause, and then someone would say, "I think you’ll have a very hard time getting it made. Maybe come back to this one?"'

Development on Passing initially began in 2018, when it was announced that Hall had signed on to helm the project and write its script.

The film sees Irene and Clare reconnect in a chance encounter at a whites-only hotel during the Harlem Renaissance. It is Irene's first attempt at passing, while Clare has done it for her entire life, even marrying a white racist who is unaware of his own wife's heritage.

In addition to the feature's two leads, the project features performances from actors such as Alexander Skarsgard, Gbenga Akinnagbe and Bill Camp, among others.

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Production on the flick initially began in November of 2019, when the first of the three performers signed on to appear in the movie.

Passing eventually had its world premiere at the most recent Sundance Film Festival.

Shortly after its debut, the feature's distribution rights were picked up by Netflix in a deal that was worth $15 million, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

Passing is screening in a limited number of cinemas in the UK and US.

The movie will eventually be made available to the public through the streaming service on November 10th.

Passing currently holds an 85% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and many critics have lauded the feature's themes, as well as the performances of its cast.

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