Skin is the heartbreaking true story of Sandra Laing (played by Sophie Okonedo) as a woman with black skin born to white parents in apartheid S. Africa. She is a white girl who looked black. As a young girl she knew she looked different but her biggest problems began when she showed up to school. They couldn’t and wouldn’t believe she was white, and were of course convinced that her mother (Alice Krige) had an affair with a black man instead of the fact that maybe somewhere in her family’s past there was actually mixed race blood. This poor girl was just torn between two very different worlds. The place she felt safest and most comfortable was amongst people who looked like her, so she left her family to live in the black community. Her family then broke all ties with her because they just couldn’t believe their white daughter would rather live with black people. The whole thing just broke my heart. This is a small film that makes you really think about race and how much racism hurts. Skin opens today in NY and LA.
Sandra Laing is an very quiet woman (now I understand Okonedo’s understated performance) and she answered some questions about her life and the film.
Women & Hollywood: How did the film come about?
Sandra Laing: Tony Fabian the director of the film phoned me in 2000 that he wanted to meet me and told me that he wanted to make a film about my life. I agreed because other people — newspaper and tv people — always came to me and they just took the story and went, and in Tony’s case I felt that he was the one who would change my life. He did but it took 7 years to make the film.
W&H: Did he change your life?
SL: Yes, I was staying in a small rented house wasn’t working and couldn’t support my children, but now I am in a bigger house and my life is much better.
W&H: What was the hardest part for you to watch in the film?
SL: The time when I called my mother from my cousin’s house which was the first time I spoke with her after 10 or 15 years since I left home but I still didn’t know where she was staying she didn’t tell me. And then the time when I found her in the old age home.
W&H: Why do you feel it was important for your story to get out there?
SL: I wanted to let the world know what apartheid did to a person in S. Africa and to let people know that if something happens to you long ago and you are scared to talk you must talk about it and let it out and you can then go on with your life.
W&H: In the press notes you say that this is a story of family, forgiveness and the triumph of the human spirit. Have you forgiven your family?
SL: Yes, I have forgiven my family. I didn’t get a chance to ask forgiveness from my father but I did see my mother before she died and now just my brothers are left.
W&H: Have you spoken with them?
SL: They don’t want to speak to me. They are still angry with me from when I left home and when I chose black people over them.
W&H: It is so hard to rationalize what you must have felt — you were white but had black skin. What can your experience teach people about racial issues?
SL: I think you mustn’t see a person through color whether she is black or white or brown. We are all the same. We all have the same blood. Inside we are all the same.
W&H: Were you ever on the set? What did you thnk about Sophie Okonedo playing you?
SL: Sophie is a brilliant actor. I do see me in her acting. She is doing the same things that happened to me.
W&H: Anything else you would like to add?
SL: Ask people to pray for me so that my brothers will one day come and see me.
W&H: Will this film open in S. Africa?
SL: It will it open in S. Africa on January 22, 2010.