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A White LieComing to a Screen Near You

A film about Anita Hemmings, class of 1897, will soon be on the big screen, thanks to co-producers Reese Witherspoon and Zendaya. The actress Zendaya will portray Hemmings in the biopic.

The film will be based on a book by Karin Tanabe ’02.Photo: Joseph Allen

The movie, A White Lie, based on the book The Gilded Years by Karin Tanabe ’02, examines Hemmings’ experiences as a black woman passing as white while at Vassar. At the time, Vassar didn’t admit African American students (it took 40 more years for that to happen knowingly) and Hemmings’s ancestry went unnoticed until a few weeks before graduation, when her roommate started to have suspicions and mentioned them to her father.

Tanabe says she’s thrilled to have a powerhouse group of women behind the film, including screenwriter Monica Beletsky. “I can’t wait to see what this team does with Anita’s story, which is unfortunately still very relatable today,” she says.

The film is billed as a psychological thriller and involves a private eye, hired by the Hemmings’ roommate’s father, who tracked down her family in Boston. Vassar College President James Monroe Taylor was made aware of her racial background, but made the decision to allow Hemmings to graduate with her class.