Netflix Streaming Pick: Review Of 'Skin' (Starring Sophie Okonedo)

Reviews
by Wendy Okoi-Obuli
February 22, 2013 2:03 PM
4 Comments
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Based on a true story Skin looks at the life of Sandra Laing who, according to the Skin movie website synopsis was the embodiment of a phenomenon I'm sure that most white South Africans at the time (and maybe even now) would like to deny existed: "...a black child born in the 1950s to white Afrikaners, unaware of their black ancestry. Her parents are rural shopkeepers serving the local black community, who lovingly bring her up as their ‘white’ little girl. But at the age of ten, Sandra is driven out of white society. The film follows Sandra’s thirty-year journey from rejection to acceptance, betrayal to reconciliation, as she struggles to define her place in a changing world - and triumphs against all odds."

Before I go any further I'd just like to negate any suggestion that it was about a cheating wife trying to pass of another man's child as her husband's. True, there is brief allusion in the film to the husband's supposedly unfounded suspicion and the fact that he abhors that his wife is so friendly with the kaffirs (blacks), but that's not what the film is about.

With strong performances all round, my fear of it being overly melodramatic was almost unfounded, even from Sophie Okonedo, who can be a little over the top at times, seeming to forget to draw the line between stage and film acting.

The first question that struck me within the first few minutes of the film was why her parents (played by Sam Neil and Alice Krige), despite her obvious physical appearance, decided to have their daughter classified and identify as white, ill preparing her for a life outside of their rural outpost. They go so far as to enroll her in an all-white school in which she's humiliated, alienated and finally forced to leave.

I can understand parents wanting to make a stand or to provide the very best for their child, but their level of denial, even to the point where they made her believe she was a little white girl, was never explored nor even how, given this was apartheid South Africa, she was even classified as white in the first place - especially when a particular scene goes to great and degrading lengths to explain and examine the physical traits that so obviously don't make the ten year old girl (Ella Ramangwane) white.

Her parents then also proceed, as she gets older, to make her go out on dates with young white men who obviously do so out of neighbourly civility or to satisfy their young white male curiousty, and this despite the fact that the dress her mother buys for her courting sessions is bought with Sandra having to give her approval from outside the department store window because she's not allowed into the building. As the movie was based on fact, this is just something that seemed like it could have been explored more intently, particularly with regard to how it affected Sandra emotionally and psychologically and even what was going through her parents' minds.

Another issue for me was the rather rapid infatuation, rebellious courtship, honeymoon and then separation between Sandra and her black husband, by whom she had two children. Given the film's 107 minutes and the fact that this seemed to be one of the few times in her young adult life that she actually found bliss, her relationship with her paramour (Tony Kgoroge) could have been better developed, particularly as he is virtually the only black male, aside from their son, portrayed in the film. As it was, it seemed as though it were just a set up to display how traumatic her forced separation from her white family was; an event that was no doubt tragic, but which was enforced by her father and later on carried out to the letter by her mother.

While the film did try to give Sandra's perspective, it still felt very much like the heroic saga of a white family who were willing to go beyond the pale to redress the shame of their ancestral lineage by drawing attention to the very thing, or person, which denoted this past shame, and with scant regard for the innermost feelings or perspective of their only daughter.

I watched the film with a reinforced feeling of what I've always thought, that in racially mixed societies, whites are the controllers and arbiters of the identity of anyone who doesn't share their skin colour; in this case, first it was Sandra's parents, particularly her father, and then the state. When Sandra decides to take control of her own fate and identity, attempting to reclassify herself as coloured so that she can live with her black husband and raise her coloured children, it's portrayed as a somewhat capricious, childish rebellion that is doomed to fail.

Despite these observations, however, it's a story that certainly deserves to be told and which, no doubt in part thanks to white liberal feelings in these "post-racial" times, has garnered many awards in its round of the film festival circuit and which I'd recommend, even if only for the originality of this infuriating tale, though not much for its sometimes haphazard and unfocused rendering.

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4 Comments

  • tai | September 18, 2013 9:30 AMReply

    Please keep in mind that modern DNA and Archeoligical findings factually prove that ALL MANKIND that is on this planet comes from the most powerful bloodline in this planet and that is the BLACK BLOODLINE. DNA and skeletal finding show ethiopia as being the birthplace of all mankind and that is in AFRICA. That blonde headed, blue eyed human comes from the black bloodline. Look up what WHITEWASHING means and you will see how the black history was tried to be completely wiped out by the european white so that they did not have to teach their children that whites come from blacks. They then RE-WROTE history. This film shows simply how insensisitive whites are towards blacks. This is currently changing for many of the new generations of whites are understanding something that many previous generation just could not accept and that is that: WE ARE ALL ONE! It really is THAT simple and yet SO HARD for some to grasp. The other TRUTH is: LOVE IS THE ANSWER! When this young girl found LOVE in a black man, notice who tried stopping LOVE with a GUN mind you! When I see a white, I see an evolved black through many generations of evolution for many blacks left africa and moved to colder climates and they became lighter. Sorry to bring in the bible, please note that from the beinning it was a totally BLACK PLANET with no WHITES! The church instructed their artists to paint these characters white. CHRIST was a black man and yet he is shown white on a cross. ALBINOS have been around from the beginning. ABRAHAM had a son called Isaac for he married rebecca and they had fraternal twins. Jacob amd Enos. Jacob was as black as charcoal and from HIM comes the 10 tribes of ISRAEL. His fraternal twin brother was an ALBINO that because he looked so white, he FOUGHT against his brother for he joined the roman army. Back then there was not a word JEW for they were called HEBREW ISRAELITES and the many that escaped that war that crucified CHRIST, went to WEST AFRICA where a BLACK king gathered them all up and sold them to the slave traders. A trade approved by the church! These BLACK HEBREW ISRAELITE (THE REAL JEWS) ended up in the carib islands as SLAVES and NOTE who enslaved them! WHat an incredible completion of the circle for that WHITE that has done so much to hate the BLACK is really BLACK! Remember! WE ARE ALL ONE!

  • Everette | February 25, 2013 11:02 PMReply

    Glad you are still doing Netflix reviews, there are some real gems there. I totally agree with your assessment of the Okonedo's acting. She does have a stage aura that shows in many of her films but in this one she got it right. Perhaps, because she could relate. You have to remember that in many countries the child while not classified as White, would not be classified as Black either, South Africa was not one of those places. Furthermore, this is a typical dynamic for many 'multi-racial' children in being raised to assimilate with one race, but typically after adolescence the reality of the color designations of many nations thrusts the child into a new reality. This phenomena is very common in Europe, everyone embraces the child at youth and then in adulthood, childhood friends disappear and the individual starts to embrace those that resemble them.

  • Donella | February 22, 2013 5:16 PMReply

    Saw this. It broke my heart. Okonedo's great as always in a dramatic role.

  • Aaron | February 22, 2013 2:23 PMReply

    I've had this in my Netflix queue for the longest time but keep passing it up to watch something else because the synopis alone told me that I was going to see something messed up that would raise my blood pressure. I may eventually get around to watching it this weekend.

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