Trailers for The Human Stain show Anthony Hopkins and Nicole Kidman in a clinch. “There’s something I need to tell you,” he whispers. “Later,” she sighs. In the novel, Faunia is smart enough to figure out Coleman’s secret on her own, but this is a movie . . .
Miramax made a mint on The Crying Game in part because reviewers were successfully enjoined to protect the secret of Jaye Davidson’s gender. But perhaps realizing the confusion—if not outright incredulity—that would arise from the revelation that Anthony Hopkins was playing an African American, the famously micromanaging studio flashed critics the signal to out Coleman in their reviews. A mailing was dispatched with photocopies of Brent Staples’s New York Times editorial-page piece on the paper’s late book critic Anatole Broyard, a light-skinned black man who reinvented himself to the degree that his wife and children remained unaware of his (and their) heritage. A cover letter provided another nudge: “The history of ‘passing’ is something that we hope that you will include in your coverage of The Human Stain.” As opposed to something, say, on the history of white actors playing black roles.
J. Hoberman’s review of The Human Stain