The Film Adaptation of Nella Larsen's Passing Secures an Over $15 Million Netflix Deal at Sundance

Ruth Negga, left, as Clare Kendry and Tessa Thompson as Irene Renfield in Passing.
Ruth Negga, left, as Clare Kendry and Tessa Thompson as Irene Renfield in Passing.
Screenshot: Sundance

Sundance strikes again! The largest independent film festival in the United States, gone virtual this year instead of celebrating in its typical environs in Park City, Utah, is ground zero for some of the most anticipated films of the year. This year, one long-anticipated film adaptation proved worth the wait: Nella Larsen’s 1929 novella Passing, adapted for the screen by acclaimed actress and first-time director Rebecca Hall and starring Ruth Negga and Tessa Thompson, was one of the festival’s big draws. While the black-and-white film didn’t walk away with any of the festival’s 2021 awards, it has now won one of the season’s major distribution deals, reportedly garnering $15.75 million from Netflix for worldwide distribution rights.


Deadline teased the acquisition on Wednesday, noting: “The film is a real statement of female empowerment, with Hall making her helming debut on the Nella Larsen novella, and Thompson and Negga turning in powerhouse performances. Netflix competed in a field of five bidders, and will do one of its top-shelf awards streaming releases with a theatrical distribution component.”

Set during the Harlem Renaissance, Passing is the tale of childhood acquaintances Irene Renfield (Thompson) and Clare Kendry (Negga), both Black women light-skinned enough to “pass” for white, but choosing dramatically divergent paths. A chance reunion sparks even more drama, as a mutual curiosity devolves into an obsession with catastrophic results. Incorporating not only colorism and the deeply dangerous phenomenon of “passing,” the film also explores white supremacy, queerness, and Black class identity and mobility.

The sale of the film adaptation, which premiered last Saturday as part of the U.S. Dramatic Competition also stars André Holland, Alexander Skarsgård, Bill Camp, Gbenga Akinnagbe, Antoinette Crowe-Legacy and Ashley Ware Jenkins, was reportedly handled by Endeavor Content. Passing was produced by Hall, Forest Whitaker, Nina Yang Bongiovi, and Margot Hand, with Thompson and Negga among the film’s executive producers. Additional executive producers were Oren Moverman, Angela Robinson, Erika Hampson, Michael Y. Chow, Kevin A. Lin, Lauren Dark, Daniel Battsek, Ollie Madden, Brenda Robinson, Chaz Ebert, Yvonne Huff, Christopher Liu, Arcadiy Golubovich, Dori A. Rath, Joseph J. Restaino, David Gendron and Ali Jazayeri.

No news yet on when we can put Passing in our Netflix queues.

Maiysha Kai is managing editor of The Glow Up, host of The Root Presents: It's Lit! podcast and Big Beauty Tuesdays, and your average Grammy-nominated goddess next door. May I borrow some sugar?



The BigBad just better not be a dark-skinned Black woman.

That's all.