Directed by Anthony Fabian, Skin is based on a true story set in South Africa in 1955, at a time when the colour of one’s skin determined the outcome of one’s life. Sandra Laing (Sophie Okenodo) – Hotel Rwanda and The Secret Life of Bees - is the child of white Afrikaners who was born with brown skin and curly hair and was referred to as a ‘throwback,’ the result of mixed blood which was considered part of an Afrikaners’ heritage. The film opens on the day that Nelson Mandela was elected South Africa’s first African president. When captured by a film crew and asked for her opinion, Sandra responds, ‘it comes too late for me’. From this initial interview we go back on a journey where we are exposed to the horror she experienced when growing up in a nation deeply divided by apartheid.

When she was a young girl (played by Ella Ramangwane) Sandra was sent to an all-white school and experienced her first taste of racism which continued for the rest of her up-bringing. At one point she was tested by the authorities who placed a pencil in her curly hair and her ‘colour’ was determined by whether the pencil stayed in, or fell out. Sandra’s parents Abraham (Sam Neill) and Sannie (Alice Krige) went to court to have the colour of her skin overruled so that she could live as a white woman and therefore enjoy the privileges that were enjoyed by white Afrikaners

Even though Sandra’s father fought to have her recognized by the courts as a white woman, he was a bigot. He never accepted her situation and was as racist as many whites in South Africa were during that period. In the meantime, Sannie attempted to stay in contact with her daughter, trying to accept her for what she was.

As she entered adulthood, her parents tried in vain to set her up with ‘nice’ South African white boys, but Sandra met Petrus (Tony Kgoroge) whom she fell in love with and eventually married and they had two children. Unfortunately the relationship fell apart and Sandra left the marital home. The emotional scenes become more and more devastating as Sandra attempts to re-establish her relationship with her estranged parents.

Shot by no less than three cinematographers (Dewald Aukema, Nic Hofmeyer and Jonathan Partridge) the film beautifully captures the fifties era. The harsh, dry landscape of the Eastern Transvaal is almost a visual metaphor for the manner in which Sandra is treated. The performances are all excellent and we are left in no doubt about the cruel attitude that prevailed during apartheid. This is a film about the loss of identity and the right to exist as equals in society. It makes for extremely uncomfortable viewing of the injustice of a system which was frowned upon by the rest of the world and yet nothing was done to correct it. If you want to spend 107 minutes being outraged, then this is the film for you.

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