This film is based on a real life case. It speaks to the heart of our concerns about identity; in this case race acts as the constraint on family’s happiness.
White South African family, the Laings, have a son and a daughter. They have a white Afrikaner identity. They are not interested in rocking any boats or making any political stands. They are generally in sympathy with the government that promotes Apartheid. The reality of that regime comes to bear on them, though, when their daughter, Sandra, is designated mixed race or coloured. Her skin is darker than the rest of the family; she looks mixed race. The problems start when Sandra is sent to the all white boarding school her brother attends. Parents of the other children complain and the authorities intervene. It is their decision that she is not white and she is expelled from the school. Her father takes the matter to the courts and, helped by international opinion, he wins. Sandra is reclassified as white.
The film shows how the external view of a person’s identity affects them despite the reality. It mattered little that Sandra was white. The community around her in 1965 in a remote part of the Eastern Transvaal thought differently. Their actions were based on their views and prejudices, not on the truth.
As Sandra grows up she falls in love with a young black man, causing her to be alienated from her father. He did not fight for her right to be white for her to ‘throw it away’. She has her own children and they have an identity different again from their parents. South Africa may now be building a ‘Rainbow Nation’ but, for most of her life, Sandra found herself on the outside.
This is a powerful film. Sophie Okonedo plays the older Sandra, showing inner strength in the face of the hostility around her. Sam Neill is her stubborn father; his stubbornness brought to bear for, and then against, his daughter.
After seeing the film, the issue that kept playing on my mind was the way attitudes of the adults around the child were so rigid. It explains why some people who are not gay experience homophobic bullying. It is enough for somebody else to decide what and who you are. Identity can be dumped on you!
The film ‘Skin’ is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?