“Why is your skin so light?”
“Aren’t you supposed to be Black?”
“What are you . . . half white?”
As a first-generation American born to South African parents — a father with dark skin and a mother with light skin — my olive complexion causes confusion on a regular basis. And I’m not alone. Light-skinned Black people and racially ambiguous people are often misunderstood and confused for different races. This is the plot of Passing, a new drama about two biracial women who “pass” as white to varying degrees, which recently premiered at the Sundance Film Festival.
Directed by English actress Rebecca Hall, the film is based on the acclaimed 1929 novel by Nella Larsen. It follows Clare Kendry (Ruth Negga) and Irene Redfield (Tessa Thompson), two childhood friends who serendipitously reconnect in their adult lives. Set in 1920s New York, both women choose to live on opposite sides of…