Passing Movie

Passing. It’s the name of a new movie. One that refers to an age old way of moving in society if one is something other than white in America. If one is light skinned enough, one can ‘pass” as white. Why would anyone want to do that? Of course, to hold privilege and power in society.

In the Passing movie, two young African-American girls grow up and join society. They have lost contact with one another and then reconnect as adults. Clare is now passing as a white woman and married to an overtly racist man while her friend, Irene, is living her life as a Black woman. Who is being authentic in her racial identity? We find Irene longing to know what it feels like to hold the power of a white person in society and we have Clare curious about moving through life as a Black woman.

In this movie, the women are African-American. Rebecca Hall, the film’s director, adapted the story from the 1929 novella Passing by Nella Larsen. It was written in a particular time with a particular story about passing as white when one is Black. However, if we were to take it beyond the Black/white paradigm passing is a concept that many bi and multiracial people are familiar with in modern day.

White people still hold tremendous privilege in society and so if you can pass as white, why not some may say. Even today. As a biracial child, half East-Indian and half Caucasian, I was always treated as a white kid with a funny last name. I didn’t even realize I was carrying that privilege. All I knew was I fit in with the white kids and was accepted. And not just any kids, but the popular ones. Not being rejected, but being “in” is something all kids crave. I had no idea in small town America much of this acceptance came from passing as white.

However, being seen as white and only having the Caucasian part of my racial identity seen and supported in society when I also am half East-Indian eventually lead me into a very confused identity state. What part of me was brown and Indian? It was out of this longing to have my color seen that I sojourned to India to be with my family and take a journey to self to reconcile both parts of myself. Given the color of my skin, I am never seen or treated as anything other than as a white woman and there is a particular kind of pain that is sharp and poignant when one’s passing is their full reality.

These two characters are wholly African-American and one has chosen to pass. I never chose this path — my skin color dictated that I could pass. I have experienced privilege and power as a result. I have sought to have my color side seen, but can never quite fit in. I must be married to an Indian man (which I am) — there is no way our collective East-Indian birthright is yours.

It hurts. The characters in Passing are also hurting — trying to fit in, to be their own person, to connect, to hold power and privilege, to be seen as “in,” to be seen as other in their own community. This movie is worth a viewing and a thought as to one’s racial identity and what would any person do to hold power and privilege in a society where it is far from egalitarian.

I Know This Much Is True

I Know This Much Is True Review

I Know This Much Is True is a book that was published in the late 1990s by Wally Lamb. Someone gave me a copy that year and I was riveted by the story of these identical brothers and how one has developed full-blown schizophrenia and the other is functioning in his adult world, but emotionally paralyzed.

It’s a dark, sad, harrowing tale about life, mental illness, bad stuff that happens along the way — most of it not of our choosing. When I think about the paths that set these two brothers up for a terrible time in life it has nothing to do with choice, but who they were born to and how they were raised — and by people who had their own traumatic history wrought on them by their elders. The lot of these brothers feels generational, set in stone before their bodies and spirits ever entered. So many of our stories are already written before we are born.

So, this story is a downer. It is difficult to read and now the book has come to the small screen in a six-part limited series that brings the story alive. I had appreciated the book two decades ago and now, having studied mental health counseling for the past four years, I was ready to see this show and look at this story through a more clinical lens. No matter how clinical my eye, this story breaks my heart.

Mark Ruffalo is amazing as he plays both twin brothers. I understand that he shot the scenes as Dominic and then returned months later, weighing 30 lbs more, to play his brother, Thomas. The cast is strong all around, and I get the sense where one brother may be psychologically weak the other has strength and vice versa. Still, for Dominic, who promises his Mother to care for his schizophrenic twin brother for the rest of his days, we get a keen sense of the pain it is to take on such a role.

Each episode, I am actually horrified at what I am watching. It’s not really the mental illness that unfolds in the story, but the everyday catastrophes that we have difficulty facing let alone ever recover from. Our own lives are made up of those moments, people, episodes of difficulty and the way the story is told there is really no place to hide from the raw power of pain.

I do want to recommend this book/show to you. Yes, it is difficult. Certainly, during this pandemic, it may not exactly strike your mood, but it’s worth a watch. This is a six-part series, I am two episodes in. Yes, I am overwhelmed, but I am also riveted for the next episode.

Book/Movie Review: Little Fires Everywhere

Little Fires Everywhere

Awhile ago, Celeste Ng published her book Little Fires Everywhere, which is a story that takes place in an eastern suburb of Cleveland, Ohio known as Shaker Heights. As soon as I heard where this story took place, I knew I needed to read this book. Not only were my friends who were living in Cleveland reading it, but it seemed the whole country was as well.

This book did so well, that a show was made from the book featuring Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington – two heavy hitter female actresses whom I trusted would bring these characters to life in an authentic and fruitful way. I subscribed to Hulu to watch. Both the book and the movie explore topics that are confounding in society. Even though it takes place in the 1990s, we are wrestling with the same issues in 2020.

Some of the issues include:

  1. Should a woman always have a child even if she is married and feels her family is already complete?
  2. When does being a mother overshadow one’s career and how does the mother deal with her professional losses that motherhood have taken from her?
  3. What about the man who gets away because you let him get away but can’t quite get over to the detriment of your marriage?
  4. How do we see our children, i.e. the way we want to view them or for who they actually are? What is the cost to either of these choices?
  5. Is a surrogacy pregnancy ever truly that or does the child always belong to the birth mother?
  6. Should a child born of another race be raised by parents from another race — does such an adoption ever do the child justice? If so, how?
  7. What does being a Mother actually mean?

So much of this story — of the little fires bursting forth everywhere — has to do with a woman’s identity as a mother. Whether she looks to be perfect from the outside with the beautiful home, four children, and perfect career or is a bohemian artist rambling from town to town with a daughter who does not know from where she comes from or is a mother who is desperate to raise a baby of her own, but can only find this fulfillment via adoption, to the socio-economically poor mother who feels forced to give up her baby for a better life than she can offer — all of these types of mothers and their meanings are explored in the book and show.

It’s quite masterful the many ways that Ng weaves all of these maternal stories together in an explosive tale that leaves all lives upended in many surprising ways by the end. For me, it has provided me fodder to think of mothering in a way that is not known to me for being a child free woman who chose to not take a motherhood path. For me, mothering feels like I sit outside of these narratives.

However, Ng seems to invite even me in to think about the various ways mothering plays out in our lives, whether we are actually a mother or not. I have been mothered, I have many friends and family members who are mothers, I have patients who are mothers — mothering feels universal on some level. Yet, Ng shows the various threads and unique paths women take toward it and live it out.

Worth a read and/or a watch to perhaps see where you find the mother in you.