More than skin deep

(Canscene) — Docudramas and biopics are nothing new to television: the best of them can be excellent but many tend to gloss over certain facts for convenience.

That is why my original review of  Australian director Anthony Fabian’s film Skin was so full of praise.  Fabian  chose to present his film as straight drama played out during South Africa’s infamous apartheid regime, without preachment, neither sugar-coating its message nor heavy-handedly villainizing its apartheid-supporting characters.

Skin was one of the films selected for the ‘08 Toronto International Film Festival.

What has surprised me has been the lukewarm reception Skin has been given by English-language journalists.  Screened for Oprah Winfrey it was powerfully endorsed by the influential TV host who has sponsored screenings of the film for special groups. Perhaps it was that fact that affected the wide number of media that just don’t like Oprah’s great popularity.

The Laings, (Sam Neill and Alice Krige) an Afrikaner couple beget a girl child whose skin is considerably darker than their own and in the knowledge that genetic throwbacks are a scientific possibility, fight to have their child Sandra accepted officially as “white.”

They succeed but their world is torn apart when as a young woman Sandra (Sophie Okonedo) chooses a black boyfriend.  Victims of the narrow thought patterns of most Afrikaners, they reject their daughter. That the tragedy really happened has been made evident in news reports and articles; in fact it was for years a human rights cause celebre.

Performances especially by Neill, Krige and Okonedo are standouts. The film ends with a real-life glimpse of Sandra Laing , now a grandmother and a successful store owner.

As a result of its screening at TIFF, Skin has already been picked up for distribution in Greece, France, Scandinavia, the Middle East and the Benelux nations.


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