Skin

Starring Sophie Okonedo, Sam Neil, Alice Kridge, Tony Kgoroge and Ella Ramangwane. Directed by Anthony Fabian.
Rated M (mature themes and infrequent violence).  107 mins.

South African films continue to explore the apartheid years. This film takes a case which has been the subject of TV programs and news and articles in the press, the story of Sandra Laing who was born to white parents and, in the 1960s for going to school, was classified as white despite her black appearance and then was re-classified as coloured, re-classified as white but, when she had her own children, wanted to be classified as coloured so that there would be no legal danger of her losing them.

The film opens in 1994 with Sandra and her adult children going to vote in the first free elections that year. We are then taken back to the 1960s. Her parents (Sam Neill and Alice Krige) are storekeepers. He is proud of his Afrikaaner background and is at pains to make sure his daughter whom he loves is officially white so that she can go to a whites only school with her white brother. Needless to say, parents and students complain and the headmaster takes action. This angers her father (who can be quite authoritarian with his black employees) who takes the matter to the courts.

Arguments are made about genetic information – and the suggestion (which does not go down well at the time) that most Afrikaaners may have some black African blood.

Sandra (Sophie Oekanado, who has to portray Sandra as a teenager and in her forties) is strong-minded and feels constrained by her father's dictates but is devoted to her kindly and loving mother. The crisis occurs when she falls in love with the young man who supplies the store. Her father expels her from the home and there follow years of estrangement from both her parents.

This family tension is sad in itself but, in the context of apartheid and the treatment of black Africans in the 1970s and 1980s, clearing of townships and setting up of alternate townships, it is even sadder.

Because the apartheid issue is so personalised in the Laing family story and in Sandra's hard life, audiences will respond quite emotionally to the injustices of that aberration in South African society and law.

All Interactive   Opens July 22

Fr Peter Malone MSC is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.


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