Rebecca Hall describes the family legacy of her biracial mother and grandfather who ‘pass by’ as white
Rebecca Hall has detailed to her family the painful legacy of her biracial mother Maria Ewing and her grandfather who pretended to be white in a candid new interview.
The 39-year-old actress’s own complex biracial history inspired her directorial debut, Passing, about two light-skinned black women who “pass” for white.
Hall is the daughter of white British director Sir Peter Hall and Detroit-born opera singer Maria, 71, whose mother was white Dutch and father of African American, and possibly Sioux Native American and white European descent.
Like the characters in Passing, Hall’s maternal grandfather, Norman Isaac Ewing, who died in 1968, spent his life as a white man and raised his children, including Mary, as white.
History: In a candid new interview (pictured with her mother in 2010), Rebecca Hall detailed the painful legacy her biracial mother Maria Ewing and grandfather who pretended to be white as whites left on her family.
Speaking to The Guardian, the star said growing up in a family with a history of ‘transition’ led to ‘inheriting shame, not pride’.
She said, “I think in any family that has a legacy of death, it’s very difficult because unfortunately you inherit all the shame and none of the pride.”
Rebecca added that she was even more embarrassed growing up in the upper classes because of her parents’ success in entertainment.
She said, ‘I was in these fancy private English boarding schools and everyone gets picked up in Range Rovers, you know? I go back and forth in a cab and everyone looks at my mom and it’s like, “Isn’t she exotic!”
Directorial debut: The 39-year-old actress’s own complex biracial history inspired her directorial debut, Passing, about two light-skinned black women who “pass on” as white (pictured by Ruth Negga and Tessa Thompson in Passing)
“The most eloquent way I can describe it is that if you’re in a black family and a member leaves and crosses the color line, you never see them as white, even if all whites see it. And from that perspective I wanted the public to see it.’
The theme was explored in Nella Larsen’s 1929 novella, Passing, on which Hall’s film is based.
It’s all about the friendship of Irene (Tessa Thompson) and Clare (Ruth Negga), two light-skinned black women who both – intentionally and unintentionally – ‘pass on’ as white in 1920s New York.
Legacy: Like the characters in Passing, Hall’s maternal grandfather, Norman Isaac Ewing, who died in 1968, spent his life as a white man and raised his children, including Mary, as white (Rebecca pictured last week)
Rebecca said her mother Maria felt the film was a “late in life gift” to her and Norman and a “huge liberation” for him and “what he couldn’t say.”
Earlier this month, Hall discussed her grandfather in an interview with Screen Daily, saying, “He was almost certainly African American. I say he passed for white; there was no language for that even within my family… it was even mysterious for it [my mother] and complicated for her.
The upcoming film initially premiered at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival in January, but will be available in select theaters beginning October 27.
Rebecca admitted it was a struggle to get the film made, with the completed screenplay six years in a drawer, with another seven years of financing and production.
Family: Speaking to The Guardian, the star said growing up in a family with a history of ‘death’ led to ‘inheriting shame, not pride’ (pictured, Rebecca as a baby with her mother Maria and father, director Sir Peter Hall)
She said: ‘When I first started showing’ [the screenplay] to people everyone said, “Oh, it’s extraordinary! It’s really great! So, so delicate!” And then there was a pause, and someone would say, “I think you’re going to have a really hard time getting it done. Maybe you’ll come back to this?”
Development on Passing initially started in 2018 when it was announced that Hall had signed on to lead the project and write the script.
The film sees Irene and Clare reconnect during a chance meeting at a white-only hotel during the Harlem Renaissance. It’s Irene’s first attempt at passing, while Clare has done it all her life, even marrying a white supremacist unaware of his own wife’s heritage.
In addition to the two lead roles of the feature film, the project also includes appearances from actors such as Alexander Skarsgard, Gbenga Akinnagbe and Bill Camp.
Production on the film initially began in November 2019, when the first of the three performers signed up to appear in the film.
Passing eventually had its world premiere at the most recent Sundance Film Festival.
Shortly after its debut, the feature’s distribution rights were picked up by Netflix in a deal worth $15 million, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
Passing will be shown in a limited number of UK and US cinemas.
The film will eventually be made available to the public on November 10 via the streaming service.
Passing currently has a new rating of 85% on Rotten Tomatoes, and many critics have praised the feature’s themes, as well as the cast’s performances.
Movie: Passing currently holds a new 85% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and many critics have praised the feature film’s themes as well as the cast’s performances.