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Fri May 7, 2010
Not black or white
By John DeSando, WCBE's "It's Movie Time," "Cinema Classics," and "On the Marquee"
"I'm not black!" Sandra
The color of Sandra Laing (Sophie Okonedo) colors her life beyond what anyone might dream possible. Born black of white parents Sannie (Alice Krige) and Abraham (Sam Neill), who own a rural general store, Sandra is the center of Skin, a drama played against the harrowing years of Apartheid. She is breaking the law if she lives as a black with whites, so her dad devotes years to have her officially declared white.
But even for isolated Afrikaners like the Laings, life is complicated, especially when Sandra falls in love and has a baby with a black farmer, Petrus (Tony Kgoroge). Although the film becomes melodramatic or operatic at times, underneath is a core of truth about a human condition that fosters racial hatred and enslavement even in the modern world. It takes a Mandela to free blacks in Africa, but it is up to the strong of heart like Sandra to make that freedom a reality, day by day.
The film, sometimes playing like J. M. Coetzee Coeteze's violent white versus black world, does a credible job showing the contradictions in characters like her dad, who enforces the separation of black and whites but seems to know he is wrong. Yet, he cannot help himself; this is the strength of the film, the consistent struggle between righteous tradition (read separation) and goodness and fairness.
Although we know apartheid will end, and Abraham will be a victim of his own willfulness, the film manages to retain the sense of futility for blacks, artistically not easy to do when history has made its statement.
The goodness often manifests itself in Sandra's mother, a loving woman driven by her husband to lose her daughter and watch him suffer remorse too strong to describe. The truth lies in the pain that an oppressed people have endured for hundreds of years on both sides of the Atlantic.
For that truth, Skin is worth experiencing.
John DeSando teaches film at Franklin University and co-hosts WCBE 90.5's It's Movie Time, Cinema Classics, and On the Marquee, which can be heard streaming at http://publicbroadcasting.net/wcbe/ppr/index.shtml and on demand at http://www.publicbroadcasting.net/wcbe/arts.artsmain Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.RR.com