Just after I had finished The Vanishing Half, Netflix sent me an email saying that I might like their new film Passing based on the book of the same name written by Nella Larsen in 1929. It tells the story of two school friends who meet up again only one of them is living in the black community, Irene, and one is ‘passing’ as white, Clare. It is beautifully filmed in black and white and plays with perception and whose eyes we see things through. This story is not just about passing in the racial sense, it is also about Clare and Irene’s attraction to one another which adds another layer of tension.
I love the poetry of Langston Hughes so was delighted to find that he had written a short story, Passing, in 1930 which can be read here. The story is in the form of a letter from a man to his mother, thanking her for not talking to him when she passed him in the street with his girlfriend. The letter explains how he feels about the incident, about how white people see black people and about how he intends to lead his life. There is also Who’s Passing for Who?(No need to answer the questions at the end!) written in the 1950s by Hughes that explores similar themes.
I recently came across Walter Mosley’s writing when looking for new-to-me authors of detective fiction. His first Easy Rawlins novel Devil in a Blue Dress explores the long arms of crime reaching up to/down to political power with one of the key character’s true racial identity revealed in a book where everything is concealed.