Don’t know about you, but I’d be happy for a global renaissance of Nella Larsen and her American classic novel Passing.
Listen to Kalisha read this Here on Spotify.
As a fellow Midwesterner and University of Chicagoan, Roger Ebert was one of my favorite writers along with Judy Blume and James Baldwin. It’s been a loss to go without a trustworthy and unmitigated opinion of films. However, Odie Henderson’s “Passing” review on the legacy and brand site RogerEbert.com shows a rare approach to meeting Ebert’s standard of passion and intelligence in sharing the movies. It helps to start with a great story, which “Passing” is. So great, Henderson’s review is appropriately lengthy compared to most, nearly scholarly. He’s sold his audience on what I know to be all the right touchstones and merits of this cult classic, which looks to be transferred to film magically, with the beautiful Chaz Ebert executive producing.
I was so excited at the first impression I got for this book’s film adaptation on its way. I’m an English major/major book nerd, so yes, the great Nella Larsen’s Passing is a novel to define my college days. If you were a woman with melanin and not going into medicine or science as a career, you loved Passing. It was your Dynasty and Real Housewives franchise, yet so aged and psychologically impressive it was totally okay to call this soap opera a favorite novel. Oh, the drama…
I gave away my very first well-worn copy 20 years ago, to a friend visiting my big city college apartment from our small hometown. Don’t remember what I told her that made it possible for anybody to “borrow” a fave book from my shelves, but it had to have been good. Mystery, suspense, betrayal, romance, sex, violence and good old fashioned Black partying are all easy themes.
Larsen’s 1929 novel is a staple Harlem Renaissance American classic, a soapy story of two childhood friends who collide as adult women passing for white, Irene Redfield only as a fun hobby but Clare Kendry as her full-time secret way of life. I will just say Irene doesn’t disappear quietly and Clare doesn’t outrun karma. I was introduced to it by longtime University of Chicago English professor Kenneth Warren in his Harlem Renaissance course and I’ve frequently lectured on it as essential to Black women’s cultural chronology in America.
For those uncomfortable with going to movie theaters (or all who gave up on my favorite past time when streaming arrived a decade ago), you are in luck! “Passing” comes to Netflix on November 10.
It would be great to make this Black women’s novel adaptation trend at #1! It’s the outcome that flips the scripts for change, makes Black women’s stories where to start instead of where to go discover. I know all y’all got Netflix and you’re probably streaming something now. In the words of the great (!?!?) Sha’carri Richardson, “Don’t play with me!” What’s one more stream? I can’t wait to see if 98 short minutes will help or hurt the story. Still, it’s hard to fight with that low time commitment, so don’t.
It would also be lovely if you re-read, checked out, ordered or downloaded Nella Larsen’s famed novel, an African American literary classic. This book is a trailblazer in elevating Black women’s interiority and mental health to their proper places of worthy novel subjects, as American literature offered white women long before. I’m happy to add it to my running list of Black women’s book to film adaptations, which you can see right on this blog with 10 Black Women’s Book to Film Adaptations.