Passing: Women-Centered Drama–Ruth Negga (her Oscar Card)

In Passing, writer-director Rebecca Hall’s brilliant adaptation of author Nella Larsen’s novella, Ruth Negga plays Clare Bellew.

Negga has been nominated for the Best Actress Oscar for the powerful interracial drama, Loving, and this year she is a frontrunner for earning a Supporting Actress nod for Passing.

Set in 1920s New York, this seemingly carefree woman — and probably delightful dinner companion — is married to a racist businessman (Alexander Skarsgård’s John), who is unaware she is passing as a white woman.

When she reconnects with old friend Irene (Tessa Thompson), Clare risks her safety and security by routinely venturing to Harlem without telling John. She begins to feel more comfortable there, even as the more nervous Irene begins to worry about how much her husband, Brian (André Holland), has become entranced with Clare’s sparkling persona.

“Where she finds a secret thrill is being close to the danger but always managing to avoid it,” Negga says of a character she describes as “always skirting between safety and exposure” and who has “reinvented herself as a Southern belle” because her husband feels that’s “the epitome of white maidenhood.”

She adds that “for a woman of color at that time to have control over their own lives … let alone, the external circumstances of her surroundings, control is a privilege. And to see her accessing some kind of control like that is exciting and very, very worrying to me.”

A peril with the stories, however, is that — no matter how great it might be to see women making such monumental decisions — they don’t always end happily for the protagonists. Why, then are we still drawn to them?

“We have a very hard time abandoning familiar, even if it’s toxic,” Negga says.