Skin (2008)

Out Now On-Demand

A South African apartheid true-story drama about Sandra Laing, an African child born in the 1950s to Afrikaners, unaware of their black ancestry. Her parents (Sam Neill and Alice Krige) are rural shopkeepers who lovingly bring her up as their ‘white’daughter.

Sandra is sent to a boarding school in the neighbouring town of Piet Retief, where her (white) brother Leon is also studying, but parents and teachers complain that she doesn’t belong. She is examined by State officials, reclassified as ‘coloured’, and expelled from the school. Her parents fight through the courts to have the classification reversed and the story becomes an international scandal. Thus begins Sandra's thirty-year journey from rejection to acceptance.

As an adult, Sandra is played by Sophie Okenedo (Hotel Rwanda).

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.

Chicago Sun-Times (Roger Ebert)


This great film by Anthony Fabian tells this story through the eyes of a happy girl who grows into an outsider.

Christchurch Press (Margaret Agnew)


Extreme conditions breed exceptional stories. Just as countless dramas sprang out of Nazi Germany, there are a plethora of tales to come out of apartheid-era South Africa.

Hollywood Reporter


The fact that it's actually based on a true story adds an extra layer of poignancy, heightened further by another superb Sophie Okonedo performance.

Los Angeles Times


Too many of the characters are either good or bad, and that loss of nuance is missed.

New York Times


Alas, Mr. Fabian, directing his first feature-length fiction film, uses a club whenever a feather would do. He also mishandles the actors, in particular Mr. Neill and Ms. Okonedo, both of whom have been incomparably better elsewhere.

TV3 (Kate Rodger)


Sam Neill is back on the big screen, sporting facial hair and a South African accent, in a new film called Skin.

Variety (USA)


One of the more bizarre illustrations of racial injustice under apartheid is dramatized in Skin.

My review

I knew the story and when I saw the first half hour or so of the film, I thought to myself that this was going to be a dud. The story moved too quickly and I wanted more detail. However, I soon found out why. So much more story had to be crammed into the timeslot and this perhaps, (along with not the most brilliant acting in my view), was the reason the reason the film was not as successful as it might have been. Still it was a good watch and certainly had its share of moving moments. For those who are too young to know much about apartheid, as well as those who believe they are versed in its problems, it is a movie worth seeing. It will make you think again about whether you see people as you are or as they are.

Neither right or wrong


Neither right or wrong

This is Africa in all its true complexities, as an African myself, born and raised in the country, one has to have lived there to know it all. If truth be "absolutely" and "honestly" told not very much different to any other country in the world but always extremely sad.




an intersting story with historical and human significance.

We should all see this, whilst not up to a good doco, nor a good drama, still an important watch.