How Rebecca Hall’s family history inspired new film Passing: Actor turned director reveals how her US opera singer mother Maria Ewing and grandfather who were both biracial ‘passed’ themselves off as white
- Rebecca Hall, 39, makes her directorial debut with black and white film Passing
- Tells the story of two light-skinned Black women who ‘pass’ as white in the US
- Hall explained her connection to the subject through her own biracial history
- Her maternal grandfather Norman Isaac Ewing ‘passed’ as white, she revealed
- Hall’s mother is the biracial opera singer Maria Ewing, Sir Peter Hall’s third wife
Director Rebecca Hall has revealed how her family’s own complex biracial history inspired her directorial debut, Passing, about two light-skinned Black women who ‘pass’ as white.
Hall, 39, is the daughter of white British director Sir Peter Hall and Detroit-born opera singer Maria Ewing, 71, whose mother was white Dutch and father was of African American, and possibly Sioux Native American and white European descent.
Like the characters in Passing, Hall’s maternal grandfather Norman Isaac Ewing spent his life ‘passing’ as a white man and raised his children, including Maria, as white.
‘He was almost definitely African American. I say he passed for white; there was no language for that within even my family… it was it was mysterious even for [my mother] and complicated for her,’ Hall said in an interview with Screen Daily.
Rebecca Hall has revealed how her family’s own biracial history inspired her directorial debut, Passing, about two light-skinned Black women who ‘pass’ as white. Pictured, Rebecca in 2010 with her mother, opera singer Maria Ewing, whose mother was white Dutch and father was of African American, and possibly Sioux Native American and white European descent
Ruth Negga and Tessa Thompson in Passing as Clare and Irene, two light-skin Black women who both ‘pass’ – intentionally and unintentionally – as white in 1920s New York
‘I then dug a little deeper, and it became very clear that he was white passing. And more than that, it was likely that his parents were also both white passing. And I started thinking more and more about the legacy of passing in a family.’
Martha J. Cutter, an associate professor of English at Kent State University, argues racial passing originated in advertisements offering rewards for captured runaway slaves in the US in the mid-18th century.
It was uncommon for those who ran away from slavery to be described as being able ‘to pass’ or to ‘pass for’ white, almost white or Native American.
Passing was threatening because it could ‘challenge’ the rationale for slavery: that Black people were ‘inferior’ to white. An individual’s ability to ‘appear’ white while ‘being’ Black destabilised this racist argument.
The theme was explored in Nella Larsen’s 1929 novella, Passing, on which Hall’s film is based.
It centres on the friendship of Irene (Tessa Thompson) and Clare (Ruth Negga), two light-skin Black women who both ‘pass’ – intentionally and unintentionally – as white in 1920s New York.
Rebecca described her grandfather’s ‘passing’ as something that was ‘known and not known’. Adapting Passing for the screen was a way of processing her own complicated family history. Pictured, Rebecca as a baby with her mother Maria and father, director Sir Peter Hall
Like the characters in Passing, Hall’s maternal grandfather Norman Isaac Ewing spent his life ‘passing’ as a white man and raised his children as white. Pictured, Maria with Rebecca
The pair reconnect in a chance encounter at a whites-only hotel during the Harlem Renaissance. It is Irene’s first attempt at passing, while Clare has done it for her entire life, even marrying a white racist who is unaware of his own wife’s heritage.
Hall explained she was recommended Passing by a friend about 10 years ago, when she was considering her own racial identity, and the privileges she was afforded as a white-presenting person.
‘I began to think about how racial passing is representative of the American dream, in the sense that you can be self-made and turn yourself into something else, but also representative of the lie at the center of the American dream, which is that you only get to [participate] if your complexion is a certain color,’ she told the LA Times.
‘And as I started thinking more about that, I started wanting to know more and see how I sit in relation to that.’
Norman Isaac Ewing was born c. 1892-1894 to John William Ewing and Hattie Norman, who are both reportedly described in U.S. Census records as ‘mulatto’, an outdated term used to describe a child born to a Black person and a white person.
On the 1910 U.S. Census, Norman’s race is listed as ‘mulatto’. In 1920 he describes himself as ‘Native American Indian’.
Norman married Hermina Maria Veraar, who was born in Amsterdam, in 1938 in Ontario, Canada. The couple settled in the US and welcomed four daughters, Norma Koleta, Carol Pankratz, Frances Ewing and Maria Ewing.
Maria, pictured, met Sir Peter at Glyndebourne in the late 1970s. He directed her as Carmen and as Salome, whose Dance Of The Seven Veils left her totally naked on stage
Norman died in 1968, when Maria was a teenager, and Hermina died in 2004, aged 88.
Maria graduated from Finney High School, Detroit, in 1968 and made her professional debut just eight years later in a Metropolitan Opera production of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro.
She met Sir Peter at Glyndebourne in 1979. He directed her as Carmen and as Salome, whose Dance Of The Seven Veils left her totally naked on stage, and fell ‘madly in love’, despite being married to his second wife Jacky at the time.
Jacky and he were divorced in 1981, and in 1982 he married Maria, who that same year gave birth to their daughter, Rebecca.
Hall was to write of his third marriage: ‘We were together for ten years of passion, highs and lows, excitement and despair. It was a turbulent life, gloriously happy and acutely miserable.’
But by 1988, he had fallen in love yet again with the theatre’s press officer, Nicki Frei. She became his fourth and final wife when he was 60 and she 30.
Rebecca with her father Sir Peter Hall in 2006. Sir Peter, who married four times, died in 2017
Rebecca first starting her family’s heritage when she was in her mid-20s.
‘I went through a stage of really bringing it into a room and being surprised by the reaction that I got and also confused by the reaction, which varied,’ she told Screen Daily.
‘Some people would be accepting, and a lot of people just would laugh and find it hilarious. And I’d always be like, “What does that say about you that you find that so funny? What’s funny about it? Because I look like an English rose and that’s funny to you because you have an absolute idea about what blackness is?”
‘All these things start to percolate and you’re like this walking paradox.’
In a separate interview, Rebecca described her grandfather’s ‘passing’ as something that was ‘known and not known’. Adapting Passing for the screen was a way of processing her own complicated family history.
‘I don’t think that I really had language for passing. It was such a difficult area of conversation in my family,’ explained Rebecca in an interview with Variety.
Rebecca with her mother Maria Ewing and Leslie Caron, Sir Peter’s first wife, at his funeral
‘It was a question of, maybe my grandfather and maybe his parents [were Black], maybe this, maybe that, maybe it was something else, we don’t really know. It wasn’t framed as this choice.
‘I don’t think I understood the truth of [passing] until I read the book. And then I had a context for it that made sense and slotted everything together in relation to all of the snippets of information I had about my family.’
It was a long journey to get the film made, with producers Nina Yang Bongiovi and Forest Whitaker, of Significant Productions, initially sceptical about Hall’s suitability to tell the story.
‘I was a little hesitant because what we do as a production company is champion filmmakers of colour,’ Bongiovi told Variety. ‘Our mission is to lift up underrepresented voices.
‘So I told her, “I don’t know if it’s right for a Caucasian woman to tell a story about Black women who can pass.
‘And when she told me that her [maternal side of the family] is African American but have been passing for generations, I almost fell off my chair. I was like, Wow, this actually makes her such a perfect filmmaker to tell the story.’
Hall said her mother was ‘incredibly moved’ when she saw the film for the first time.
‘There were a lot of tears,’ she said. ‘She said that she felt her father would have been released by it on some level because he was never able to talk about it. This has given our family an ability to not feel like there’s something that’s hidden.’
Passing is screening in a limited number of cinemas in the UK and US.
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Fashion’s fallen for the horsey set’s classic coat
How to dress like a grown up with Shane Watson: Fashion’s fallen for the horsey set’s classic coat
- Shane Watson shares advice for embracing this season’s quilted coats trend
- Suggests coats below the knee or longer, and avoiding popper fastenings
- UK-based fashion expert takes inspiration from Jordana Brewster
The question I’ve been wrestling with (wrestling might be a bit strong), is where do I stand on quilted coats and jackets?
For a start, my parents’ generation wore quilted vests to stave off the draughts in their very-much-not-insulated houses.
I look at quilted coats and think of wellies and dog whistles, sheep wrangling and horse feed, and struggle to see them as any more stylish than an oilskin and sou’wester.
On the other hand, all you have to do is nip in to your local M&S, Zara or John Lewis to realise that quilted coats and jackets are as fashionable as biker boots a decade ago — and at the start of that trend I remember being less than convinced.
Shane Watson shares advice for embracing this season’s quilted coats trend at any occasion. Pictured: Jordana Brewster
Too heavy, I thought. Too utilitarian. Too ugly. Yet within months biker boots had become glamorous, youth imbuing and generally all-round desirable.
Which is a long-winded way of saying I’m well aware the fashions we don’t get instantly, are often the ones that prove most enduring — especially when they have a lot going for them, practically.
Not long ago you could easily buy a parka or padded jacket that was not even shower proof; but these quilted cover ups are 100 per cent weatherproof. There’s nothing frivolous about this fashion.
So, the next question is, does a quilted coat serve a different purpose from your parka/duvet/padded coat? The quick answer to that is yes. I think so. It’s thinner, it’s lighter, you can wear it with a bag strap slung across it. It’s like the difference between a light padded gilet and a dryrobe, those coats wild swimmers love.
And, last but not least, there’s a noticeable difference between a quilted jacket Jeremy Clarkson might wear on his farm and the one you’ll be wearing if you take the bait. Which — having tried on a few — I can see that you might.
Apart from being so light that the coat you walked into the shop wearing by contrast feels like concrete, the quilted coat or jacket can look quite nippy. It has that wholesome country-casuals-meets-Europrincess vibe; it’s built for a British winter but, is also neat and a bit bourgeois dressy, like a velvet ribbon-tied ponytail.
It’s all about how you wear it (with a polo neck peeking out one end and a midi hem and boots, the other); the colour (sage green or khaki if it’s a coat; green or navy if it’s a jacket . . . don’t be tempted by bright colours); and length. If it’s a coat it should finish just on or below the knee so it looks leaner and can’t be mistaken for a padded anorak.
QUILTED COATS : RULES
- Go quilted not padded
- Keep coats below the knee or longer
- Try khaki or navy
- Avoid popper fastenings
The gold-standard jacket is Barbour’s fake-fur-lined version (£169, barbour.com). Boden does a cute jacket in khaki or navy with a fat, faux- fur detachable collar (£150, boden.co.uk) which is all to the good, as this quilted jacket’s appeal is its simplicity. Cos has an ultra-plain reversible jacket in navy (£99, cosstores.com) which would also work well under a coat.
However, as we get into winter, a coat, with a hood, will be more useful.
Zara has a good one with an adjustable hem, parka style (£59.99, zara.com) and a straighter version, also hooded (£79.99, zara.com). Cos has a long-line quilted coat in khaki (£135, cosstores.com). Marks & Spencer has something similar in hunter green but belted (£79, marksandspencer.com) so, for the slimmer customer then; I can’t see quilting and belts working for most.
Massimo Dutti has a wide range of quilted coats including one in high-shine glossy green (£169, massimodutti.com) with a detachable hood.
Honestly, you can walk into any shop on the High Street and find an entire quilting section with lots of choice and you can’t go far wrong — though beware bulky cuts (this coat shouldn’t pile on pounds) and unnecessary details, like breast pockets.
Will it change your life? No, but if you’re bored stiff of that padded coat and your parka has seen better days, this is where you should be looking. And the quilties are starting to look more on the money than other weatherproof coats. They’re definitely growing on me.
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Kate Middleton Made 1 Eco-Friendly Move With Her Outfit at the Earthshot Prize
Prince William recently launched the inaugural Earthshot Prize, a huge initiative to combat climate change. Of course, Kate Middleton was right there alongside him to show support. Because of the theme of the event, Kate donned an outfit that showed off her eco-friendly mindset.
Kate Middleton supported Prince William at the Earthshot Prize
On October 17, 2021, William launched the first-ever Earthshot Prize ceremony. It highlighted many innovations around the world that are playing their parts in helping the environment. The award ceremony included a total of 15 finalists and five winners in various categories.
Kate was there to support William in his groundbreaking project. The Duchess of Cambridge was one of the award presenters for the event. She handed out the prize for the Protect and Restore Nature category to the country of Costa Rica for its efforts in restoring rainforests.
“Nature is vital to us all. A thriving natural world regulates our climate, nurtures our physical and mental health, and helps feed our families,” Kate said in her speech.
Other stars at the Earthshot Prize include Emma Watson, Ed Sheeran, Coldplay, and Emma Thompson. The Prize will also become an annual event and be hosted by other countries in the future.
Kate Middleton made an eco-friendly move with her outfit
True to its message, the Earthshot Prize tried to be as eco-friendly as possible. Participants were encouraged to join via video calls instead of flying into London. Musical performances were also powered by 60 cyclists.
Kate, whose fashion always garners a lot of attention, made sure her outfit reflected the message of Earthshot as well. She re-wore an Alexander McQueen gown that she donned to the 2011 BAFTA. According to Marie Claire, in re-wearing an outfit, Kate seems to be sending a message about overconsumption. This is, indeed, a big problem in the fashion industry and one that is contributing to environmental degradation.
Other participants also tried to be eco-friendly with their fashion statements. For example, according to E! News, Emma Watson wore a top made from 10 wedding dresses.
Kate Middleton has re-wears clothes many times
Kate is no stranger to recycled outfits. Ever since she joined the royal family in 2011, she has re-worn clothes many times.
In fact, Kate specifically re-wears items when she attends weddings. Kate attracts a lot of attention everywhere she goes, and this seems to be a way for her to shift some attention to the bride and groom at hand.
When she attended Prince Harry’s 2018 wedding to Meghan Markle, Kate donned a cream Alexander McQueen coat dress that she already wore three years earlier at her daughter’s christening. Similarly, at the wedding of Princess Eugenie and Jack Brooksbank a few months later, Kate wore a pink Alexander McQueen dress that was similar to something she wore at Trooping the Colour in 2017.
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‘RHOSLC’ recap: Mary Cosby ‘would change’ husband to fit her needs
‘RHOSLC’ star Mary Cosby tells castmate Jennie Nguyen to ‘shut up’
‘RHOSLC’ Lisa Barlow addresses Mary Cosby’s ‘crazy’ cult allegations
Lisa Barlow takes a dig at Whitney Rose in ‘RHOSLC’ sneak peek
Whitney Rose blasts Mary Cosby’s ‘crazy’ and ‘baseless’ Twitter accusations
Will her prayer be answered?
In Sunday night’s episode of “The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City,” Mary Cosby revealed that she would transform her husband, Bishop Robert Cosby Sr., into an entirely different human being if she could.
“I could be wrong for this but I would change Robert Sr.,” the Bravo star, 48, said in a confessional. “I would just, like, change him, the whole person, to what I want in him that I don’t get.”
Mary added that her decades-long marriage to Robert Sr. has been “exhausting.”
“You want him to say, ‘[I’m] sorry,’ you want him to be passionate, you want him to just be alive,” she elaborated, listing the qualities she feels her spouse is devoid of. “And then you have Robert Sr.”
Mary inherited her late grandmother Rosemary “Mama” Redmon Cosby’s Faith Temple Pentecostal Church and multimillion-dollar estate after the elder preacher’s 1997 death. Mary later married her step-grandfather and Mama’s husband, Robert Sr. (The two are not blood-related.)
Mary has previously expressed that she did not want to enter into the unconventional marriage, but eventually conceded to the arrangement as to honor her late grandmother’s wishes.
While taking a break from a tennis game with castmate Meredith Marks in this week’s installment of “RHOSLC,” the religious leader opened up more about her home life with Robert Sr.
“I remember when I got my own bedroom — because you know Robert Sr. and I don’t share a bedroom. We don’t sleep in the same room,” Mary told the jewelry designer. “And he’s like, ‘This is your room.’ And I’m like, ‘What do you mean, my room?’”
She continued, “At first I was like, ‘OK, this is weird. OK, you’re going in there? OK, good night.’ But then, I don’t know what I’d do without my own room. I think there’s dynamics to relationships that work.”
Mary also explained to Marks, 49, that she is dreading the day her and Robert Sr.’s 18-year-old son, Robert Jr., moves out of the family’s palatial Utah home.
“If Robert Jr. leaves my house, then it’ll just be Robert Sr. and I all the time. I just find that strange. I want to live Italian-style where they live at home until they get married,” she said. “My son is part of our life and a part of our marriage and a part of us for the last 18 years.”
Mary — who, in addition to worrying about her husband, is embroiled in rumors that she’s running a “cult” — went on to say that she is in no way looking forward to rediscovering who Robert Sr. is once their nest is empty.
“Our whole marriage is based on this kid, so it’s almost like I have to relearn this man,” she told the camera. “From knowing what I know now, I don’t want to get to know him and I just see, like, a disaster.”
“The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City” airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on Bravo.
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