Skin is the extraordinary true story of Sandra Laing, a so-called coloured girl, born to white parents in 1950's Apartheid South Africa. It's a fascinating story about a woman trying to forge her way into South African culture, going against the grain because of her skin colour and racial classification. This has got to be one of the most interesting lives to have lived during the struggle, as Sandra essentially bridged the divide between white and black South Africans. She spent her childhood, being teased behind her back and was discriminated against by her peers and teachers. Growing up wasn't any easier, as the rebellious young Sandra fell in love with one of her father's fresh produce suppliers, opting for a life of love rather than comfort... trying to find solace in the township with her new husband.
Sophie Okonedo (The Secret Lives of Bees) adopts the character of Sandra as a teenager and young adult, making an easy transition from the ages of 16 to her early 40s. Her performance shows a willful young woman, undeterred by her father's shame, resilient against perception and determined to live life to the full. Sam Neill plays Abraham Laing with a good understanding of the old South Africa and enough vindication to play the complex hard-hearted man. Both international stars manage to get a grasp on the South African accent, without tripping over it. Homegrown talent, Alice Krige owns the part of Sannie Laing, balancing her character's indecision and feeling of entrapment on the knife's edge as she passes through life, caring from a distance. While Tony Kgoroge plays a strong supporting role as Petrus, who wins Sandra's heart over.
Skin is a film of conflicts. The environmental conflict is the most obvious thematic contrast with the Apartheid era segregating and profiling all South Africans with laws instituted to keep race and culture divided. Then Sandra's own father's struggle to have her officially acknowledged as being white, drives a wedge into the family with her mother trying to remain neutral. Sandra's story derives power from his injustice and great divides, which leave emotional trenches and an intriguing character study in their wake.
Skin eventually had to be made, and Antony Fabian has done an excellent job in relaying Sandra's distinctly South African story to an international audience. The sensitive direction, casting and scriptwriting keep the story in check without leaning on melodrama or exaggerations. Skin paints an honest picture of the South Africa Sandra experienced, without having to pluck heart strings and cue violins. Sandra survived her childhood and the Apartheid regime with her head held high and part of the inspiration from this story is just how courageous she was in combating race and classification in all her years.
This is a film that encapsulates the painful legacy of Apartheid in one woman's struggle. It attempts to tell a uniquely South African story representing both sides and for the most part succeeds. The solid performances from the cast anchor the extraordinary story in real-life and Fabian's honest approach to story-telling drives the narrative along. It's an engaging and educative film for audiences who aren't familiar with South Africa's past and an inspiration for people who feel that they are in a constant battle to stay relevant to society. Skin may not be as gripping as many other biographical films in its class, but it certainly holds up as a satisfactory film experience.
The bottom line: Honest.