Movie Review: Skin

Movie Review: Skin

Summary: Based on the life story of Sandra Laing, a light-skinned black woman who was born to White parents in 1950s apartheid South Africa.

Published November 1, 2009

skinSummary : Based on the life story of Sandra Laing , a light-skinned black woman who was born to White parents in 1950s apartheid South Africa. Laing struggles with issues of racial identity from her family, the court system and her community.

Review : Anyone who has been effected by light versus dark skin will be floored at Skin , based on a true story. Once upon a time, race was a legal system and for Sandra Laing, who was born to white parents (blood tests proved the Laings were her biological parents),  she looked like a light-skinned black girl. Tucked away in a rural area, Sandra is shocked when she attends school and her Blackness is made obvious by hateful classmates, even though she cries, "I am not black!" Lines like this echo classics like Imitation of Life and Pinky .

For legal reasons, Laing's race goes from White to colored to White to back to colored. Laing's parents love her but are clearly disgusted by her Blackness, especially her father. In one scene her father ecstatically shouts, "She's white again! She's white again!" Still not satisfied, Sandra attempts to lighten and bleach her skin. Scenes like these are painful to watch, which might be an experience specific to African-Americans, but Skin goes so deep, bringing up our global roots that we sometimes like to ignore.

Skin is directed by Anthony Fabian , which is his first feature length. While the movie unravels typically, its delivery is satisfying and keeps the audience intrigued. But, it is the shock factor of Laing's story that keeps your jaw to the floor: The physical abuse from her parents, the cruelty of the court system, violence from educators and even how Black Africans turn their back on Laing. Laing lived a painful, rejected and lonely life. Sadly, according to published reports, Laing's two other brothers refuse to speak to her to this day.

Sandra Laing is played by the consistently superb Sophie Okonedo . Her performance is extremely subtle, head bowed and talking softly, which at times feels sluggish. Okonedo never gets the epic monologue or climactic emotional moment that is so important for dramatic tearjerkers. However, in watching footage of the real-life Sandra Laing, she seems to be a quiet spirit, very close to what Okonedo portrayed. Therefore, Okonedo did her job.

All of the other performances are just as solid. Alice Krige and Sam Neill easily capture the parents who are loving, but delusional racists. Laing's love interest is Tony Kgoroge , who has a commanding presence and I can only hope we will see more of him.

Towards the end, Skin loses some of its color, but the movie remains as a powerful and untold story about race.

On another note, Sandra's father took a blood test to prove he was indeed her father. Her "Blackness" was regarded as a "genetic abnormality," however, some scholars contend that blood tests were not scientifically reliable measurements of paternity . It was 1955, and DNA tests were unimaginable.  Although Laing's parents are both deceased, I couldn't help but wonder if there was a DNA test done today if Mr. Laing would still be her father. I have never heard of a "genetic abnormality" creating a child who looks distinctly Black -- Maury Povich would probably say, "You are not the father!"

Skin is in select theaters now.

Written by Clay Cane

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