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Irene (Tessa Thompson) is a Black woman living in Harlem with her doctor husband and two sons. At the beginning of the film, we see her carefully negotiating white spaces; with the right lighting, and the right title of her hat, she can pass for White. She does this with delicacy, and we worry that at any moment she will be found out. She soon meets an old childhood friend Clare (Ruth Negga) who is married to a White man and has been passing as white her entire life. The meeting sets in motion a series of transformations in their understanding of race that will have implications for both. This is a tragic story that is told with such beauty. The film is shot in Black and White; it is interesting how that color choice also enhances the way both women move in worlds controlled by White men. Given how it was filmed, I could easily imagine this as a stage play. The two leads are wonderful, and each works off the other’s securities and insecurities. I think the show belongs mostly to Negga who seems confident on the surface, yet underneath is missing a deeper meaning and sense of belonging in her life and finds it in Thompson’s character. This is a wonderful, powerful, and tragic film. One of my favorites of the year. (2021; 4.5 Stars)

About Gary Burkholder

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