Tessa Thompson on Making Career Choices: ‘I Always Ask: ‘Where Do We Not Get to Be As Black Women?’

by Yah Yah

Tessa Thompson’s recent Netflix movie, “Passing,” is still a hot topic of conversation.

“Passing” is an adaptation of Nella Larsen’s 1929 novel and is the directorial debut of Rebecca Hall, who considers herself a “white passing” biracial woman.

Thompson plays Irene Redfield, who is staggered by her close friend’s lifestyle. Irene lives in Harlem with her husband, a Black doctor. Ruth Negga stars as the “passing” Clare Kendry, who is married to Alexander Skarsgård — an openly racist white man. Clare, who lives in a nice part of Manhattan, keeps the truth from her white husband.

Speaking to Harper’s Bazaar, Thompson opened up about how she decides on the roles she plays.

“Lensing an experience like that. We’ve seen it time and time again in film iconography…and it’s always a white female protagonist,” says Thompson, Zooming me from Los Angeles, and grinning from ear to ear at the opportunity to discuss this story. “For me, with the choices that I make in my career, I always ask: ‘Where do we not get to be as Black women?’ I hope Passing makes more room to be able to look at the interior life of a Black woman for her own sake. We have not so far been afforded that much space for nuance and ambiguity.”

Surprisingly, even though Nessa’s character went through her adult life passing for white, Thompson thinks Claire was far more honest than Irene.

“In a perverse way, Claire is the honest one,” Thompson explains. “She says to Irene, ‘I’m not safe.’ And she is almost safer because she knows she’s not safe. Whereas Irene is breaking everything in her hands, because she’s not entirely honest with herself or her reality. In the film, you see her refusing to have these open conversations with her kids about race, which feel so eerily like they could be happening in the modern day.”

“Passing” is still available to stream on Netflix. You can read Thompson’s full interview with Harper’s Bazaar here.

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