Are Irene “Rene” Redfield and Clare Bellew in Passing Based on Real People?


Rebecca Hall’s ‘Passing’ is a black-and-white movie that facilities on two fair-skinned Black girls, Irene “Rene” Redfield and Clare Bellew, who’re childhood pals. As their worlds collide in Nineteen Twenties New York City, the similarities and variations in their ideologies emerge and distinction sharply. The interval drama sees Tessa Thompson, Ruth Negga, André Holland, Alexander Skarsgård, and Bill Camp in central roles.

The movie has been lauded for its daring exploration of black and queer identities. We see how Irene and Clare are each drawn to and repelled by one another’s life decisions. Their whirlwind friendship, marked by a robust queer undertone, is each stunning and turbulent. Naturally, many are curious to know if Irene and Clare are primarily based on actual folks. Let’s discover out!

Are Irene “Rene” Redfield and Clare Bellew Based on Real People?

No, Irene “Rene” Redfield and Clare Bellew usually are not primarily based on actual folks. However, sure real-life personas and incidents did encourage their characters. Hall’s directorial debut relies on Nella Larsen’s 1929 novel of the identical title. Larsen — a nurse, librarian, and author — infused her writings along with her personal experiences as a mixed-race girl who may go as white. Like Irene and Clare, Larsen grew up in Chicago and then moved to New York City.

The character of Clare is a product of Larsen’s ambiguities pertaining to her racial identification. Like Clare, Larsen was light-skinned sufficient to go as white. Larsen’s father was an immigrant from the Danish colony of West Indies, whereas her mom was Danish. Her father died when she was 2-years-old; her mom remarried and had one other daughter with one other Danish immigrant. Like Clare, Larsen grew up in poverty and was largely ignored by her household.

In the movie, Clare chooses to desert her Black identification and marries a racist white man, John Bellew, to achieve a lifetime of wealth, security, and luxurious. Clearly, Larsen was intimately conscious of the advantages and dangers of passing as white. Clare’s wild and carefree angle additionally brings to thoughts the spirit of modernism that had gripped America throughout the early twentieth century, imbuing many with the daring to defy societal norms.

Image Credit: Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Yale University

On the opposite hand, Irene doesn’t select to go as white in her each day life. She has a husband, Brian, who works as a health care provider, and two sons, Ted and Junior. She lives a snug life however nonetheless faces the implications of a racially segregated society. Irene’s fierce embracement of her Black identification, in addition to need to take care of her elite standing, comes from Larsen’s firsthand remark of Black people at Fisk University (the place she studied) and in Harlem (the place she lived).

Additionally, Larsen was the spouse of Elmer Imes, the second African American to earn a Ph.D. in physics, up till their divorce in 1933. She additionally spent a variety of time with the pioneers — writers, musicians, and intellectuals — of the Harlem Renaissance and witnessed how they wielded their Black identification for private freedom and to struggle in opposition to racism. Larsen additionally noticed how among the Black elite fiercely shunned racial injustice and additionally deserted their cultural heritage in order to climb the social ladder.

Moreover, Larsen’s friendship with Carl Van Vechten, a queer author, photographer, and patron of the Harlem Renaissance, forms the basis of Irene’s friendship with Hugh Wentworth. Irene and Clare’s characters reveal how deeply Larsen considered socially-mediated labels and establishments of identification — race, sexuality, marriage, motherhood, and friendship. Larsen’s milieu contributed to the 2 protagonists as properly.

In 1924, the highly publicized case of Leonard “Kip” Rhinelander and Alice Jones dropped at mild the troubles of mixed-race people and interracial marriages. Rhinelander — a white man, hailing from a robust New York-based household — sued Jones — a fair-skinned working-class girl — and accused her of hiding her Black ancestry in order to achieve his wealth. The jury finally dominated in Jones’ favor, however not earlier than she was subjected to a sequence of humiliating physique examinations meant to substantiate her race.

The threat Clare takes by being married to John turns into all too obvious when one considers the destiny of Jones, which Larsen was definitely conscious of. Thus, Larsen’s personal negotiations along with her mixed-race identification inform the fictional Irene and Clare. The novelist channeled her passionate views about Black and queer identities into the 2 protagonists. Although Irene and Clare aren’t precisely primarily based on actual folks, they definitely do symbolize the intentionally hidden tales of many Black people from America of the Nineteen Twenties in addition to the unstable high quality of private and social identities.

Read More: Is Passing Based on a True Story?