Friday, October 23, 2009

Skin: A True Story Delves Below The Surface of Racism

Based On The Real Life Story of Sandra Laing

In "Skin" ten-years-old Sandra Laing is a lovely young girl. She's smart, friendly, and loves playing with family and friends at her home in South Africa. Her parents, Abraham and Sannie, are local store owners. On the surface, their simple lives are picture perfect.

But look closer. By racial description Sandra is a black, but her biological parents are white. To them her skin tone is not an issue; she is their white child. But to the outside world she is black and is to be treated as any "colored" person according to the rules of apartheid.

Still, Sandra's father is determined to make the world see her as he does. Even after the State board classifies her as "colored" and expels her from boarding school, he fights in court to get her reclassified. As his battle gains international media attention he uses it to his favor and eventually Sandra is reclassified as white.

But it's a small victory if at all for young Sandra Laing. As a young woman she comes to realize in her parent's Afrikaner world, her skin and other African features classify her as a "kaffir", or a "nigger" by American definition. Thus, the privileges that come with being white in South Africa are never to be hers.

Despite her parents' attempts to shelter her in their white world, she falls in love with a young black man and runs away with him to Swaziland. Their "interracial" coupling is against the law and Sandra is arrested and jailed for months thanks to her angry father involving the police. Once released, Sandra then makes a decision that will change the course of her life forever.

"Skin" The Movie

This narrative film based on a true story truly explores the complexities of race and white privilege without being polemic nor political. It is not a story of apartheid, but a human story of how the distinction of race at its core is so arbitrary.

So how is it possible two seemingly white parents could produce a black child? The answer is one of simple genetics. To explain it culturally likens it to the "one drop rule". To take it a step further, Google antiquated terms "mulatto", "quadroon,", "octoroon", and the phrase "passing" as it relates to them and there's your answer.

"Skin" does not delve into these distinctions but it does shed great insight into how race impacts individuals even within the same family. Again, it's a human story and Academy Award nominee Sophie Okonedo as Sandra Laing is superb in bringing Sandra Laing's story and emotions to the big screen.

Actors Sam Neill and Alice Krige deliver Oscar worthy performances as well. As Abraham and Sannie Laing, they hold tight to their "white" status despite the proof of their mixed heritage--their children. But dealing with Sandra's ultimate choice is what polarizes them as a family the most.

Overall, "Skin" is one of the best films I've seen all year. The story, the writing, the acting, the music, everything works together so well that I predict Academy Award. In the meantime, the website states "Skin" will be released in US theaters October 30th. Learn even more about the film in the videos below and meet the real Sandra Laing HERE.

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