‘Passing’ Is the New Comic That You Have to Read
By L.G. Parker
“Passing is about the effects of integration and gentrification,” explains co-creator Danielle Belton, “and the kinds of people and friendships that come out of it.”
Featuring two twenty-something white sisters – Kelly and Unique – who were adopted and raised by a black family, Passing shows their life in gentrified Harlem, New York as they live with their friend Deidre Daniels, who is black. Unlike Kelly and Unique, Deidre is “over” blackness, having been raised by black nationalist parents who are akin to Angela Davis and Cornel West.
Let’s be clear, though. Kelly and Unique, the creators say, “would give Rachel Dolezal major side eyes and run her to the nearest psychiatrist.” Unlike Dolezal, “Kelly and Unique both realize they’re white. And it’s something they can’t hide; they don’t masquerade the fact that they’re not black.”
“Living in the DMV area,” Callahan says, “[Belton and I] have come across white women like Kelly and Unique and we always wondered how did they get to become so engrossed into black culture. So we figured a way of showing that was to have them be adopted by a black family.”
“Also, transracial adoption has always fascinated me,” Belton continued, “in that while race is a social construct, it’s one we all have to deal with the fall-out from, and [transracially adopted] kids don’t get a choice because they’re either born into or raised by a family of a different race than their own.”
Throughout the comic, Kelly and Unique clash over how they navigate their identities as white women who were raised in black culture. “Kelly becomes more open to explore being white,” Belton says, “while her sister sees that as a betrayal to the people who raised them.”
Prior to creating the comic, Passing was of major interest to a premier talent agency in Los Angeles, California after Belton and Callahan spent months developing scripts.
“The only way America would produce an honest show on black people,” the duo joked at Passing’s inception, “is if it starred two white women.”
“The agency that was interested in it told us it was too smart for television,” Callahan says “which was sort of a slap in the face after we spent a whole summer crafting episodes.”
With a new strip being posted monthly on the Passing website, Belton says the team is “likely to animate [the comic] down the line as that technology becomes cheaper,” but they’re unlikely to return to developing it as a web series since the comic strip form enables them “to be as funny or political as we want, without having to answer to anyone.”
L.G. Parker is a poet and writer living in Richmond, VA. She is a Callaloo fellow and regular contributor to Elixher Magazine, Blavity, and the Black Youth Project.