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AFI Dallas: A Look Back at Skin


by Gail Sachson 3 Apr 2009

Guest blogger Gail Sachson owns Ask Me About Art, is Vice-Chair of the Cultural Affairs Commission , a member of the Public Art Committee and an avid film enthusiast. Skin the movie will get under yours, no matter what color it is. A movie that took four writers five years to get right spans 30 […]

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Sophie Okonedo and Sam Neill star in Skin.

Guest blogger Gail Sachson owns Ask Me About Art, is Vice-Chair of the Cultural Affairs Commission , a member of the Public Art Committee and an avid film enthusiast.

Skin the movie will get under yours, no matter what color it is. A movie that took four writers five years to get right spans 30 years. It is the story of identity, a mother-daughter relationship, race, class, women’s rights, bondage of body and of mind and much, much more. One audience member at the Q & A following the Sunday night AFI screening said, “it was riveting” and we were seeing the beginning of the Academy Awards. Another said he remembered when there was a “ridiculous” story in the U.S. papers about 40 years ago when light meters were used in South Africa to detect what race one was. That ridiculous story is the story of Skin. Ridiculous, yet true.

Skin tells of a black child, Sandra Laing, born to white parents. It tells of her difficult schooling, her challenging loves, her children, her life. Director Anthony Fabian says that because of Apartheid, “her white parents prospered, while she remained in the gutter.”

South Africa in the 1940s had very strict laws regarding race classification. Sandra’s  father, believing that the dark-skinned child was his, battled aggressively to have her birth record read white, although she appeared black in every way.

After years of legal battles, he won. He created an embarrassment for the government, and with the help of a genetics expert witness, so the movie explains, helped change the law. Classification would be based upon lineage, rather than visible characteristics. It is assumed that black genes in her parents’ genetic history, laid dormant for generations, surfaced at her birth. It is not unusual for South Africans to discover such a history of co-mingling.

Although Apartheid ended 15 years ago, some of the older generations remain aghast at the mixing of the races. Thankfully, the oppressive regime of the 1940’s, intent upon increasing the white population, is gone. However, some South Africans have fled to Dallas because of their reaction to the present government. “The government is why I am living here now,” one said at the screening. “It is corrupt. They believe AIDS can be battled with olive oil and garlic.”

Before the screening, with voting slips in the hands of the audience, Skin director Fabian said, “Frankly, I don’t see this as a little minority film. Please vote with everything you’ve got.” And they did. Skin won the Audience Award for Best Narrative Feature.

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