Most movies about South Africa’s racially charged history are told through the eyes of non-African A-listers (think Kevin Kline in Cry Freedom, Juliette Binoche and Samuel L. Jackson in In My Country). Star power might anchor audiences in understanding apartheid, but it comes at the expense of an informed indigenous perspective. Rectifying this oversight is the one thing going for Anthony Fabian’s biopic of Sandra Laing (Okonedo), a dark-skinned woman born to white-skinned parents (Neill, Krige) and thus caught in the rigid racial laws that divided the country for decades. Through Sandra’s eyes, we witness her parents’ desperate battle with the courts to claim her heritage; white society remains inhospitable, driving the young woman to elope with an African, who turns out to be as hateful of Afrikaners as her father is of blacks.
The story is too rich in incident for Fabian, whose episodic TV-movie approach speeds through Laing’s lifetime of abuse. Okonedo hardly varies her mopey, stoop-shouldered victim posture throughout the 30-plus years of her character’s life, though the script’s two-dimensional characterizations don’t help. Unable to probe the complex relationships engendered by a biracial society, Skin simply becomes an example of colorless, by-the-numbers apartheid cinema.—Kevin B. Lee
Opens Fri; Landmark Sunshine. Find showtimes