PASSING – Review by MaryAnn Johanson

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Everything about Passing, the astonishing and just-plain-satisfying debut of actor Rebecca Hall as a writer and director, feels like a revelation. This is a movie that is simultaneously incredibly modern, like it could only have been made today, but also could be a little treasure rediscovered from pre-Code Hollywood. Not just because it’s based on a novel, by Nella Larsen, from 1929. And not just because of Hall’s choices to shoot in black-and-white and in an old-fashioned square aspect ratio. But because it feels like Passing could have been one of the movies that inspired that absolute bastard Will H. Hays to implement his censorious code.

A movie about the interior lives of Black women? (Are Black women human? Signs point to yes!) About happy — and materially successful — Black family life that is able to find joy even in a society that wants to crush it? About the perniciousness of racism that leads some Black people, when they are able to, to pretend they are White? That suggests that while racism is of course incredibly real and dangerous, race itself is complete invention that would not endure if it were not serving some insidious purpose? Continue reading…

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MaryAnn Johanson

MaryAnn Johanson is a freelance writer on film, TV, DVD, and pop culture from New York City and now based in London. She is the webmaster and sole critic at, which debuted in 1997 and is now one of the most popular, most respected, and longest-running movie-related sites on the Internet. Her film reviews also appear in a variety of alternative-weekly newspapers across the U.S. Johanson is one of only a few film critics who is a member of The International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences (the Webby organization), an invitation-only, 500-member body of leading Web experts, business figures, luminaries, visionaries and creative celebrities. She is also a member of the Online Film Critics Society. She has appeared as a cultural commentator on BBC Radio, LBC-London, and on local radio programs across North America, and she served as a judge at the first Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Film Festival at the 2003 I-Con, the largest SF convention on the East Coast. She is the author of The Totally Geeky Guide to The Princess Bride, and is an award-winning screenwriter. Read Johanson's recent articles below. For her archive, type "MaryAnn Johanson" in the Search Box (upper right corner of screen).