A South African apartheid true-story drama about Sandra Laing, an African child born in the 1950s to white folk, unaware of their black ancestry. Her darker skin complexion spells doom in the racist society of the time. Opens August 5.
Based on a true story, Skin dramatizes the events that saw a full-blooded white girl in apartheid South Africa classified as coloured due to her physical appearance. This central conceit could have made for an interesting deconstruction of those absurd, draconian laws, but sadly the movie is more interested in covering territory similar ‘message movies’ already have.
The ‘racism is bad’ theme is one that has been played out and seems to have exhausted fresh, interesting cinematic approaches. There are a few genuinely moving moments here but they are more concerned with the hatred directed towards the heroine rather than her personal struggle so are quickly abandoned. Instead she trudges on through the blunt social commentary wearing a perpetually sad expression that carries less emotional weight with each appearance. To be fair, she doesn’t get a chance to show much range as the world of her story is filled with characters that are either totally good or evil. This ‘black and white’ (pardon the expression) characterization robs the film of any real subtlety or depth.
Familiar face Sam Neill will probably be the highlight for local viewers, nailing the South African accent and seething with racist rage below his fatherly veneer. There’s some nice African landscape photography here too, but none of this shakes the feeling that you’re watching something akin to a Sunday afternoon TV movie of the week.