Academy Award nominee Ruth Negga was a Spotlight Award honoree at this year’s SCAD Savannah Film Festival for her performance in Netflix’s “Passing” from first-time writer and director Rebecca…
Academy Award nominee Ruth Negga was a Spotlight Award honoree at this year’s SCAD Savannah Film Festival for her performance in Netflix’s “Passing” from first-time writer and director Rebecca Hall. Following a screening of the Netflix feature, In a post-screening Q&A with Clayton Davis, Variety’s film awards editor, Negga told the audience about her passion for the film and its complex themes from the beginning. “It’s very rare that you read scripts that are so vital, and you think this needs to be seen,” she says regarding her reaction after reading the Nella Larson novel of the same name. “This needs to be in production immediately.”
Presented in stunning black-and-white, “Passing” tells the story of the unexpected reunion of two high school African-American women in the 1920s, whose renewed acquaintance ignites complex themes and a mutual obsession that threatens the lives they have built. The film stars Tessa Thompson as Irene “Reenie” Redfield, an identifying African-American who has built a comfortable life with her husband Brian, played by actor André Holland. Negga portrays Clare Bellew, who has established her life with her prejudice and wealthy husband John, played by Alexander Skarsgård, but as a “passing” white woman.
Negga’s interest in Black female writers eventually led her to Larson’s book before the big screen. “I think I had found my way through to Nella Larsen through Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou, and my interest in Black female writers in the U.S.,” said Negga. “When Rebecca told me she was interested in adapting this, I was absolutely thrilled, and I saw it as an opportunity to be a part of something – that would shine a light on this forgotten writer.”
The film has received positive reviews from critics and festival-goers, highlighting Hall’s direction, which Negga spoke about regarding the debut filmmaker’s process. “It took her 13 years. She wrote it in a fever and put it in a drawer and took it about 7 years later,” the actress said. “She dreamed the footsteps you see in the beginning, she knew it had to be black and white, she knew it had to be four, three ratios to give it the sense of claustrophobia and containment that is very present throughout the novel.”
Like many independent features, the film was made on a small budget. “I think people weren’t prepared to fund a film whose two leads were women of color, which is desperately sad,” Negga says regarding the film’s challenges. “They stuck to their guns, and there was no ‘we’ll make it if…’ with Rebecca.”
The drama also boasts an impressive ensemble of actors, including Bill Camp, Gbenga Akinnagbe and Antoinette Crowe-Legacy. “A lot of ensemble work is actually unsaid,” says Negga. “I feel it’s something where you must be an open channel, an open vessel in order to interact with everybody else’s energy and spirit. Rebecca was very deliberate about casting and that was the sort of approach that can’t happen in a vacuum.”
“Passing” will stream on Netflix beginning Nov. 10.
Watch the full video above.