Movie Review: Skin (2008) South Africa
Based on a true story, Sandra Laing was born black to two white parents. Something that is an interesting anomaly of unacknowledged or unknown ancestors, but unfortunately for Sandra it was oh so much more than that. Sandra was born in South Africa during Apartheid, and her white Afrikaner parents were members of the National Party. This film chronicles her fascinating life from a young girl hidden from the sun in the hopes that her skin would lighten as she grew older to a young runaway marriage to striking out on her own with her children.
I know movie reviews have been scarce around here. That’s mostly because since I joined the gym my evening free time is spent either there or reading. This weekend though I had a cold and a bit of a fuzzy head from a fever so I randomly chose an interesting looking movie from my Netflix recommendations. I had no idea when I chose it that Sandra Laing’s story is a true one. I didn’t realize this bit of information until the end credits. I thought it was one of those “what if” scenarios and knowing that this actually happened makes the whole thing incredibly painful.
We know that innate parental unconditional love is a myth. And if there was ever a true story that should unequivocally dispel this myth once and for all, it’s Sandra’s. Is there anything more abusive, more unloving than raising your child in a culture that hates her and doing, really, nothing about it? Although her parents did fight to have her classified as white and not colored (so they could keep custody of her, because apparently children had to be raised by parents of the same race during Apartheid), they did little else to protect her. Indeed, by her teen years her father was pressuring her to behave for white boys who were being verbally cruel at best or attempting to rape her at worst on dates. It’s little wonder Sandra ran off to be with a black man she met. Your role as a parent should be to protect your child and prepare her to take care of herself in the real world and advocate for herself. But Sandra’s parents’ racism clouded everything so much that the most they did was attempt to hide her.
Of course, the problem then became that Sandra was raised in a privileged background, and that’s all some of the black South Africans could see when they looked at her, including her own husband. He says to her at one point, “You still think of yourself as white.” I find it fascinating how people can become so wrapped up in their own problems resulting from inequality that they fail to see the pain inflicted by it on others, even others that they love.
The actress who plays the older Sandra does a great job showing her progression from a hopeful teen to a downtrodden factory worker at the end of Apartheid. The trauma from a life where everyone judged her either on her own skin tone or that of her parents is abundantly evident on the actresses’ face.
That said, while the topic is incredibly important and the true life events heart-breaking, I don’t think the movie itself does the real story true justice. The actors and actresses did a fine job with what they were given, but even basic googling shows that the story was cleaned up for a mainstream audience, which I think was a very poor decision on the part of the filmmakers. Sandra’s life was actually more difficult than they even give her credit for. For instance, she left home at only 15 (she seems much older in the film), her first husband already had a first wife, she actually had six children not two, etc…. (Essence, The Guardian, Women and Hollywood)
Personally, I view this movie as a gateway to the far more fascinating nitty gritty true story. I’m adding the book by the journalist Judith Stone about her work with Sandra to attempt to figure out her past called When She Was White. But. If you don’t have the time to get into it in depth, the short biopic is definitely a better choice than say the latest romcom out of Hollywood. It will push you to confront the tragedy of racism and the myth of parental love against all odds.
4 out of 5 stars
Source: Netflix Instant