It takes a moment for Passing to reveal itself. At first, the screen is just a white blur, and only gradually do shapes and sound begin to emerge: shoes, voices, a street. Eventually, we’re able to place ourselves in 1920s New York, and pinpoint Irene (Tessa Thompson) as our protagonist.
But the disorientation of those first moments never quite fades. Though it’s based on a 1929 novella by Nella Larsen, and shot in the elegant black-and-white and boxy 4:3 aspect ratio of classic Hollywood, Passing feels thoroughly modern in its exploration of the blurred lines demarcating race, class, gender, and sexuality. Its old-fashioned aesthetic becomes another a way of pointing out that though things have changed since then, they haven’t changed as much as we might want to believe.