Deception, Intent and Integrity

How far would you go to get what you want? In particular, how determined would you to be to fulfill your objectives if you felt you were being intentionally excluded from doing so? The temptation to succeed at any cost under such circumstances might be quite strong, and, if a path were to open up to make things happen seemingly easily, one could be seen as foolish for ignoring such an opportunity. But is that really true? That’s one of many thought-provoking questions raised in the new period piece drama, “Passing” (web site, trailer).

In 1920s New York, many have benefitted from the economic boom of the era, but there’s a definite divide along racial lines in terms of how readily that bounty is enjoyed. There are both well-to-do Whites and Blacks, but African-Americans are restricted in terms of how they’re able to participate in celebrating such prosperity. For example, when it comes to living arrangements, Blacks are generally confined to certain designated neighborhoods, such as Harlem. Socially, they’re largely isolated, unable to go many of the places that Caucasians visit freely, limited to their own nightclubs, stores and dining establishments. And interaction between races is virtually unheard of except in extremely constrained, clandestine circumstances.

However, for many African-Americans, those conditions are unacceptable. They want to be able to share in the same pleasures and freedoms as their White counterparts. Some seek to achieve this through activism, often with the support of notable Caucasian backers. But others take a different path, especially those who are light-skinned or of mixed race. By carefully crafting their appearance and mannerisms, they seek to mimic those of the White world, seeking to “pass” for Caucasian, despite the nature of their true ethnic backgrounds. Some become quite good at it, too, so much so that they often blend into White society and no one notices. Obviously, this is not an option for all African-Americans, particularly those with darker skin, but, for those who manage to successfully pull off the deception, they’re able to engage in activities and relationships that many of their peers are unable to do. That is, unless they get caught.

After many years apart, childhood friends Clare (Ruth Negga, left) and Irene (Tessa Thompson, right) renew ties after a chance encounter in New York in the dramatic new period piece, “Passing.” Photo by Edu Grau, courtesy of Sundance Institute and Netflix.

Irene Redfield (Tessa Thompson) is one of those African-American New Yorkers who could “pass” if she chose to do so (and, on occasion, she does so when it suits her, despite the fact that it makes her uncomfortable). Generally, though, Irene prefers to be herself, working with activist organizations to further the causes of her people. Besides, it would be difficult for her to try to pass in most social situations, given that she’s married to a dark-skinned husband, Brian (André Holland), a successful physician, whose ethnicity is more than apparent.

On a hot summer day, while out shopping for her son’s birthday, she stops at the garden tea room of a popular hotel to cool off and refresh herself. While there, Irene has a chance encounter with a childhood friend from the days of their upbringing in Chicago, Clare Bellew (nee Kendry) (Ruth Negga). Irene barely recognizes Clare initially, given how different she looks from when she knew her so many years ago. Her clothes, mannerisms and hairstyle have all changed, but they’ve also been carefully coordinated to allow the light-skinned Clare to successfully pass. In fact, as they talk, Irene learns that Clare has become so adept at passing that she has somehow managed to conceal her true ethnic identity from her wealthy banker husband, John (Alexander Skarsgård), with whom she has given birth to a daughter.

As the conversation progresses, it’s apparent the old friends have much to get caught up on, so Clare invites Irene up to her hotel room to chat further. As it turns out, Clare and John still live in Chicago but are in New York on business, though, given the success of her husband’s career, there is a good possibility the couple may be moving to the Big Apple. Ironically, Clare also shares that John is extremely prejudiced against Blacks, a revelation Irene finds shocking. She wonders how her friend could get away with something so audacious as that. It also makes Irene nervous about being in Clare’s hotel room; after all, what would happen to her and Clare if he were to show up unexpectedly while she was still there?

Which is precisely what happens.

While enjoying a respite in a fashionable hotel tea room, Clare Bellew (Ruth Negga) unexpectedly spots an old childhood friend in writer-director Rebecca Hall’s debut feature, “Passing.” Photo courtesy of Netflix.

Because of her skin tone, wardrobe and mannerisms, however, Irene is able to successfully pass for John the same way that Clare does. Admittedly, she doesn’t stay much longer, anxious to remove herself from what could potentially become a tense and awkward situation. But, before departing, Clare confides that she would like to see Irene again while she is still in New York.

Once home in Harlem, Irene feels relieved to be back in her element, but she was clearly unnerved by the incident – not only because of the circumstances in which her friend is living, but also because she allowed herself to engage in what she sees as questionable behavior to make the best out of a difficult situation. She keeps the incident to herself and goes about her typical activities, like making arrangements for an upcoming activist function and spending time with Brian and her two sons (Justus Davis Graham, Ethan Barrett). But clearly she has been affected by what happened and tries to figure out how to react to it.

Some time later, Irene receives a letter from Clare, but she ignores it – until one day when she shows up on Irene’s doorstep. Irene reluctantly invites her in, and Clare angrily unloads on her for not responding. As the situation settles down, however, Clare confesses that she’s extremely lonely. Passing may have made it possible for her to avail herself of things that would be otherwise inaccessible, but that practice also fundamentally cut her off from the African-American community, and, now that she no longer has any kindreds of color in her life, she bemoans their absence. She thus saw her chance encounter with Irene as an opportunity to reconnect to her roots. Irene admits that it was good seeing her again, too, but she still has quiet misgivings about how it unfolded.

In the wake of this, Clare begins seeing Irene on a regular basis, though it’s rarely as a result of Irene initiating their meetings. Once Clare meets Brian, for example, he begins extending invitations (not to mention somewhat flirtatious glances), despite his initial decidedly cool reaction to his wife’s friend. Clare also takes a liking to one of Irene’s activist colleagues, famed novelist Hugh Wentworth (Bill Camp), an ardent Caucasian supporter of minority civil rights. She even befriends Irene’s housekeeper, Zulena (Ashley Ware Jenkins), whose polite, deferential demeanor goes through a noticeable change afterward. It’s almost as if Clare is invading Irene’s life and taking it over, but to what end? Is this just the fulfillment of restoring contact with those whom Clare has lost touch? Or is there something more going on? And where is John in all this? He seems to have virtually disappeared, prompting one to wonder how Clare is able to explain all of her mysterious absences without his company.

Minority rights activist Irene Redfield (Tessa Thompson) has her values put to the test when she has a chance encounter with an old childhood friend in “Passing,” now available in theaters and coming soon to online streaming. Photo courtesy of Netflix.

Through all of these encounters, Irene remains politely reticent despite the fact that her interactions with Clare obviously strike some uncomfortable nerves – and on multiple fronts – personally, socially, ethnically and even where her family is concerned. Tension quietly builds in virtually all of Irene’s relationships, not just with Clare. But what is it leading up to? And what role will passing play in all this? That remains to be seen.

An old adage maintains “It’s possible to fool some of the people all of the time and all of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.” However, given the potential backlash that can come from this practice, is it really wise to attempt to fool anyone at all, even if the perceived benefits that come from it would seem to offer suitable justification? That’s what “Passing” asks us to seriously consider, and not just in a racial context, but in any undertaking. And that’s crucial to remember when we set about making plans for our lives, particularly what we seek to bring into being, for our thoughts, beliefs and intents play a vital role in manifesting the reality we experience.

At its heart, the practice of passing – no matter how it’s applied – calls for creating a deliberate deception, conditions that are intentionally false and designed to purposely mislead others. The nature of this is based on compromised beliefs loaded with potential consequences that could easily outweigh the benefits such an undertaking might afford. And, as a result, those who attempt it could easily be left with bigger problems to solve than those this practice was originally aimed at allegedly overcoming.

In light of this, those who actively engage in passing are pursuing the fulfillment of an objective at all costs without due consideration for the fallout that might accompany it. It’s a practice undertaken with deliberate false intent, which could potentially amplify the impact of harmful side effects. It can also result in significant damage to one’s personal integrity, an outcome that could, at the very least, undermine one’s credibility, while also leading to possibly greater harm on so many other additional levels. Given that, one can’t help but ask, “Is it really worth it?”

Light-skinned African-American Clare Bellew (Ruth Negga, left) has become so adept at “passing” that her own husband, John (Alexander Skarsgård, right), can’t distinguish her from “other” Caucasians, as seen in the new dramatic period piece, “Passing.” Photo courtesy of Netflix.

As the film so poignantly shows, this truly has tremendous ramifications when it comes to matters of ethnic identity. But there are other ways in which it can manifest, too. For example, how “harmless” are Brian’s coy exchanges with Clare? Is he trying to pass off his behavior as being playfully polite, or is there something more to his actions? Likewise, is Clare merely seeking the friendship of racial kindreds through her interactions with Irene and the members of her household, or is there another agenda behind this, one that she’s seeking to pass off for something that it’s inherently not? Indeed, what are the real beliefs behind these initiatives, and what are they ultimately being implemented for? These efforts potentially speak volumes about those who put them forth, but are others able to see them for who they are? There’s much at stake in circumstances like these, and not all of it may unfold as hoped for.

This, of course, raises an important question: When we seek to fulfill a particular goal, what is the best approach? Should we rely on directed, untainted, forthright actions, or is it better to pursue carefully crafted courses that essentially amount to forms of passive deception? For most of us, the preferred answer should be obvious, but, if that truly is the case, why would anyone want to follow a different path?

In an age of improved social conditions and race relations, one could easily argue that courses different from passing should be followed. Yet, as we’re all aware, hindsight truly is 20/20, and those who succeeded at overcoming their difficulties through shrewd actions as this would likely argue that their efforts were worth it in the end. It’s quite a gamble, however, one in which coming up with the precise mix of beliefs needed to achieve the desired result is absolutely crucial, a challenging undertaking that may prove exceedingly difficult to get right – and all too easy to get wrong.

The practice of passing also places a burden on those who are the target of the intentional deception. That’s especially true here where John is concerned. One might wonder how he could get things as wrong as he does. However, when we embrace beliefs that allow us to see what we want to see, it’s easy to perceive our reality as something different from how others see it. Indeed, in light of what transpires here, as the film’s tag line – “Nothing is black and white” – so eloquently illustrates, this discrepancy takes on greater relevance than John realizes, both literally and figuratively. His obvious love for Clare is so strong that he willfully ignores what should be as plain as day, allowing the camouflage of his ignorance and her deception to take over. This raises questions involving matters of discernment and the need to practice it in order to see things as they truly are – and to avoid the potential for grave disappointment.

After a troubling encounter with an old friend, activist Irene Redfield (Tessa Thompson, foreground) seeks comfort in the arms of her husband, Brian (André Holland, background), in writer-director Rebecca Hall’s debut feature, “Passing.” Photo courtesy of Netflix.

In the end, trying to be something we’re not carries implications that can go far beyond anything we can see when we launch into such endeavors, and they can emerge in a heartbeat, often without warning. Given that, then, the time-honored notion “To thine own self be true” takes on added meaning. We should remember that the next time we attempt to pass ourselves off as something other than what we truly are.

Eloquently and poetically shot in black and white, writer-director Rebecca Hall’s debut feature gives viewers much to ponder where ethnicity, tolerance and integrity are concerned. This is all brought to life by the fine performances of Thompson, Negga, Holland and Camp, backed by superb period piece production values and a fittingly complementary musical score. Several story threads feel a bit underdeveloped, but, on balance, this intriguing look at a challenging subject is sensitively handled, thought provoking and an excellent premiere effort from an aspiring filmmaker. The film has been playing at film festivals and in limited theatrical release, but it will be coming to Netflix for streaming in the near future.

How we handle the circumstances of our lives says a lot about who we are. Do we want to be known as someone who’s genuine, authentic and governed by principles of personal integrity? Or are we willing to engage in deceptive practices if they will seemingly get us what we want with an apparent minimum of effort? Think about the difference in those options and how others would view us depending on which one we choose. Indeed, what would it take to “pass” a test like this? And are we up to making the right choice? Ultimately we must each look to ourselves for answers, but we must also be willing to accept the consequences of what we decide, a determination best governed by two simple words: Choose wisely.

A complete review is available by clicking here.

Movies for a Special Time of Year


With the holidays just around the corner, movies are taking center stage as a favorite pastime during this special time of year. Find out what’s in store in theaters and online on the next edition of The Good Media Network’s Frankiesense & More video podcast with yours truly and special guest host Danielle Findlay. Given the upcoming US Thanksgiving holiday, tune in on a special day and time, Thursday November 18 at 2 pm ET on Facebook Live by clicking here for a lively discussion of releases worth seeing. And, if you don’t see the show live, catch it later on demand!

Cinematic Lessons in Generosity


In this season of giving thanks, our thoughts often turn to matters of gratitude, generosity and giving back, gestures associated with being grateful for the blessings bestowed upon us. Consequently, many believe it’s incumbent upon us to express those feelings through our acts and deeds. And those looking for inspiration in such endeavors have many excellent cinematic examples to emulate. Find out more by reading “Celluloid Generosity” in the November issue of Modern Warrior magazine. For more about this uplifting online publication, click here.

Taking a Leap of Faith

Life is full of opportunities, some great, some small. Many of us aspire to the former, but we often aren’t willing to do what it takes to reach those exalted summits. Whether that hesitancy is driven by fear, doubt, uncertainty, a lack of confidence or other considerations, we allow these self-imposed deterrents to hold us captive and stuck in place. Escaping these self-made prisons may take some effort, but we’ll never know what we’re missing until we try, initiatives that call us to make bold, courageous leaps of faith, as examined in the moving new comedy-drama, “Jump, Darling” (web site, trailer).

Aspiring actor Russell Hill (Thomas Duplessie) is having difficulty getting on with his career. In fact, the Toronto-based performer has had so much trouble landing roles that he’s had to resort to taking a job as a drag queen at a local night spot, appearing under the stage name Fishy Falters. He’s not exactly thrilled to have had to accept this gig, but it’s been an even bigger disappointment to his partner, Justin (Andrew Bushell), an uptight, button-down corporate lawyer who sees Russell’s decision as an embarrassment – for both of them.

Disheartened by his lack of career progress and his partner’s unwelcome, unsolicited, deflating criticism, Russell impulsively decides to take an open-ended break from his current big city life. He packs a bag and embarks on a trip to rural Prince Edward County, Ontario to see his aging grandmother, Margaret (Cloris Leachman), a crusty but benign soul who adores her gay grandson. Margaret lives alone and is in failing health, though she’s fiercely independent and determined to stay put. That’s not always easy in light of the somewhat overbearing control freak tendencies of her daughter (and Russell’s mother), Eve (Linda Kash), who’s trying to relocate the matriarch to a retirement community.

When aspiring actor Russell Hill (Thomas Duplessie, right) has trouble getting roles, he abandons his life in Toronto and pays a visit to his aging and ailing grandmother, Margaret (Cloris Leachman, left) in rural Ontario in director Phil Connell’s debut feature, “Jump, Darling.” Photo courtesy of 2645850 Ontario.

Though surprised to see her grandson, Margaret is pleased to have him around (despite some questionable behavior on his part) to provide assistance and to run interference when Eve starts to become too intrusive and demanding. As for Russell himself, though, he’s somewhat adrift when it comes to the intentions behind his visit. He’s unsettled, nervous and directionless. He vacillates between staying and leaving. He alternates between feeling at ease and unduly anxious. And he appears to have resumed his ongoing, exasperating love/hate relationship with Eve. Yet, through it all, he takes comfort in Margaret’s company, particularly when she imparts some of her sage wisdom, much of which resonates strongly with him.

With the passage of time, Russell finally settles down enough to start exploring his options. He begins giving drag performances at a nearby small town gay bar, the only such club for miles, a venue that enables him to hone his skills. He also begins informally dating the club’s barback, Zachary (Kwaku Adu-Poku), an opportunity to discover whether there’s romance after Justin. But, despite these attempts at finding himself, these efforts aren’t fully satisfactory. In some ways, they feel like halfway measures.

It’s at this point that Margaret’s wisdom comes back into play. She cites a number of examples from her own life and those of other family members where they had to move past interim measures to achieve satisfaction in their respective undertakings. She tells Russell that sometimes such leaps of faith are necessary to fulfill one’s dreams, no matter what they may be. In fact, she hints that she’s considering one such leap for herself and that, if Russell wants to attain the success he’s seeking, he might want to metaphorically follow suit in his own particular way. Indeed, the time may have come for Russell to jump, darling.

While on hiatus from his life in Toronto, aspiring actor Russell Hill (Thomas Duplessie) checks out small town night life in rural Prince Edward County, Ontario in “Jump, Darling.” Photo courtesy of 2645850 Ontario.

Taking a leap of faith can be a frightening prospect. The uncertainty involved, not to mention the prospect of failure, can be extremely daunting. However, all too often, we fail to consider the fact that it just might work, too. And wouldn’t that be something!

It’s important to remember that how such a leap turns out depends heavily on how we view it. Are we afraid of what we’re considering? Or do we see it as the opening of a new door of opportunity? In either case, it comes down to the beliefs we hold about such a proposition, and that’s important to remember, for our beliefs dictate how matters unfold.

In hoping for the best, we need to make sure that we conduct some judicious housekeeping when it comes to our beliefs. For example, if we allow fear-based beliefs into the mix, we significantly increase the chances of disappointment or stagnation, so those notions must be purged. At the same time, we must also affirm our beliefs in ourselves, especially when we know we can succeed at what the leap involves. To do otherwise would allow doubt to creep into the equation, which potentially could have the same effect as beliefs rooted in fear. But we can counteract this by bolstering our confidence, putting faith in ourselves and thereby reinforcing the likelihood of success.

Those measures all sound reasonable enough, yet it’s astounding how often we fall prey to the pitfalls that can trip us up. That’s important to recognize, because this illustrates just how powerful and persistent our beliefs can be, no matter what form they may take. In light of that, then, we must be cognizant of exactly what our beliefs are, because the foregoing illustrates how ingrained and influential they can be, as well as how difficult those conditions can be to overcome.

Aspiring actor-turned-drag queen Russell Hill (a.k.a. Fishy Falters) (Thomas Duplessie) tries his hand at something new when his career otherwise stalls in director Phil Connell’s debut feature, “Jump, Darling.” Photo courtesy of 2645850 Ontario.

One of the potential hindrances that can keep us from taking a leap of faith has to do with the prospect of change. Moving into uncharted territory is often unnerving. In fact, many of us find change intimidating, even when we’re aware that it can ultimately leave us better off. Yet we should seek to make friends with change, particularly in our beliefs and especially for those associated with implementing alterations in our existence that we know are entirely attainable.

In Russell’s experience, for example, his exodus from his old life clearly represents a willingness to leave behind what no longer serves him. It reflects a healthy perspective on what change can enable. However, once he takes that initial leap of faith, he hesitates about taking any more, and that’s where his forward progress tends to stall. To his credit, he seems willing to take some baby steps, but are they enough? Based on how events unfold, it’s apparent he needs to engage in bolder measures to reach the fulfillment he seeks.

Change, by its nature, is at the core of the concept that “everything is in a constant state of becoming.” However, if we resist it, we thwart the fulfillment of this notion, and leaps of faith often play an integral role in overcoming this issue. If Russell indeed hopes to fully understand and appreciate the value in this, he needs to take the required steps to avoid prolonged or permanent stagnation. This is particularly true for those of us who hope to live out our destiny, to truly live up to the potential we know we’re capable of.

In the wake of a failed romance, drag queen Russell Hill (a.k.a. Fishy Falters) (Thomas Duplessie, right) takes a stab at dating again when he begins seeing Zachary (Kwaku Adu-Poku, left), barback at a small town gay club, in “Jump, Darling.” Photo courtesy of 2645850 Ontario.

Such are the themes sensitively and warmly explored in director Phil Connell’s debut feature, one that expertly fuses tender affection with tough love. While the narrative may meander a bit at times, its heartfelt sentiments and sage advice about being willing to take a leap of faith, no matter what the endeavor, will resonate with viewers who have taken – or who need to take – steps aimed at pushing the reset button in their lives. The film is particularly noteworthy as the final screen performance of Cloris Leachman, who is positively superb in the role of the insightful matriarch, capping off a storied career in an auspiciously fitting way, a portrayal sure to tug at the heart strings without being manipulative. This delightful offering holds universal appeal for anyone who has ever had to go through a difficult transition but manages to come out looking like a queen.

“Jump, Darling” has primarily been playing at film festivals thus far, but it has also been released on several streaming platforms in the picture’s native Canada. Given the quality of this offering, though, it definitely deserves wider release. Here’s hoping distributors are willing to take a leap of faith of their own where this one is concerned.

Sitting on the sidelines, playing it safe, may provide a sense of security, and that can indeed supply us with feelings of comfort and protection. But that’s not where any of the action is taking place; it’s all on the playing field, and the only way to participate is to get in the game, no matter what kind of undertaking is involved. That requires getting noticed and taking the kinds of chances needed to make that happen. But that can occur only if we believe we can be noticed. Are we willing and able to take that kind of leap? It depends on us. And, in any event, isn’t it better to try and find out than to never even attempt it?

A complete review is available by clicking here. 

Copyright © 2021, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.