Passing Star Ruth Negga Explains Why Clare Chose To Live As A White Person

Netflix’s Passing, a film adapted from the 1929 novel of the same name by Nella Larsen, is a captivating tale of two Black women, Irene Redfield (Tessa Thompson) and Clare Kendry (Ruth Negga), who can “pass” as white but Clare chooses to do so permanently while Irene does not. The film from director Rebecca Hall shows the vast differences in the women’s lives based on the choices they make. Ruth Negga has explained why she believes Clare chose to live on the white side of the color line.

Passing is quite a fascinating story of which much is ambiguous and left up to the audience to decide. Ruth Negga’s Clare, while living a lie, takes what she wants without regard for the consequences. Tessa Thompson’s Irene doesn’t stop to consider what she wants long enough to go after it and seems jealous of Clare’s ability to do so. Neither woman is happy, and neither can really be blamed for how they choose to live. When speaking with Ruth Negga on behalf of CinemaBlend, she gave me her take on Clare’s motives:

These are the amazing backstories that I am so fascinated with in terms of passing is what brought a person to the brink of making a decision to shed their life. To sever their attachment to their wider community, to essentially dissolve familial bonds and friendships. People do not do that lightly, so you have to think, what was at stake? From the comfort of our modern-day positions, we might look at that and think it’s simply an opportunity to make money or have a different social circle but there are deep underlying issues with economic disparity, social deprivation and segregation, access, opportunity, all of these things combine in different measure and recipes to become a catalyst for someone to make that move. And it’s almost like a death. It’s crossing the river stiff and never to return for many people because that could be a death sentence to do that.

A credit to Ruth Negga’s talent and star quality, it’s clear that she did the research and really dove into the mind of a 1920s Black woman who was able to pass when preparing for this role. While she didn’t nail down a specific reason for Clare’s choice, that’s the point. There was not one specific cause, but an accumulation of things that eventually led her to believe that she would be better off marrying a white man who didn’t know she was Black and praying that their child didn’t end up with dark skin.

In the film, Clare is intrigued by Irene because Irene seemingly has it all together. She chose to stay on the Black side of the color line, she married and had three children and has a good job. At the same time, Irene is intrigued by Clare, who longs to be connected with the Black community and begins to spend more and more time with Irene’s family to do so, regardless of that putting her in danger. Passing is an exploration of the choices we make to pursue happiness and the worth of said choices. 

Passing among many of the Netflix new releases this November and begins streaming on the platform Wednesday, November 10. 

Samantha LaBat

Obsessed with Hamilton and most things Disney. Gets too attached to TV show characters. Loves a good thriller, but will only tolerate so much blood.