“Skin” Flick: Sandra Laing’s Apartheid Color Wars & A Chat At The United Nations
November 6, 2009, 8:21 pm
Filed under: Film | Tags: , , , ,
Skin Sandra Laing Movie

Sandra Laing's race: not so black and white.

Last week found me in Conference Room 4 of the United Nations, butt snugged in Namibia’s seat, mini mic before me, at a special screening of “Skin.” The she’s-white-no-she’s-black biopic is the true story of Sandra Laing, a distinctly dark-skinned girl born to white Afrikaner parents in the 1950s. They claim she’s white, the law (and eventually she) says she’s “colored,” she falls for a hot black dude, and mind-boggling apartheid bigotry ensues.

The award-winning film — out in NY and LA and arriving nationwide this month  — stars Sophie Okonedo as Sandra. But holy heartstrings! The real-life Laing came to the U.N. for the screening, and did a Q&A with director Anthony Fabian. Here are highlights from what they said…

End titles reveal that Sandra is estranged from her two brothers, an older one who looks white and a younger one who, like her, looks black. An audience member wonders why they won’t reunite with her.

Sandra: I think they are still angry with me because I left home with a black man and because I classified myself as colored.

Anthony: The other problem is that the brothers feel this is a private tragedy, and that bringing it into the public arena is very painful and wrong. However, I think Sandra feels that sharing her story is important enough to risk that pain.

As a child, Sandra was kicked out of her white school for her dark skin color. Someone asked if her younger brother experienced the same thing years later.

Sandra: No, he didn’t. He went to the same school that I went to. He finished there, and wasn’t kicked out.

Anthony: Having kicked Sandra out of school so dramatically 10 years earlier, the school was very embarrassed. When this boy went to the same school, the headmaster decided to take him under his wing and look after him — which is something that Sandra would have hugely benefited from if she had had the chance. But, also, he was lighter skinned and his features less distinctly African. I think that just gave him the edge in being able to be accepted by the white community. Today he lives with a white wife and I believe has white children. You have not seen them Sandra? No? And he, more than her older brother who looks white, feels very threatened by the association. You could say he is sort of in the closet as a black person, and having a black sister is a very threatening to him.

Sandra’s parents owned a small shop in the remote corner of Eastern Transvaal where they lived. In 2003, in a suburb of Johannesburg called Boksburg, Sandra opened a convenience store called “Sandra’s Rainbow Tuckshop” in her garage. Someone wondered how the business was going

Sandra: I had to close the Tuckshop because they brought a shopping mall nearby.

Anthony: The zoning laws changed and this bloody great shopping mall said that they have to close all of the local businesses because it would be unfair competition for them. I think Sandra’s little Tuckshop isn’t going to stop people from buying things form a huge shopping mall. Very sadly, we tried very hard to stop that from happening. It seems to me, and I am sorry to all of the South Africans in the audience, but it’s a terrible indictment in a country with so little employment possibility to shut down a self starting business.

Both of Sandra’s parents swore their daughter biologically belonged to them. Still, someone in the audience asked if she was the product of an illicit, interracial fling on her father’s part.

Anthony: Many people were much more questioning of Sannie Laing, Sandra’s mother, than of Abraham. I think Abraham himself, as is hinted at in the film, rather wondered how she came to be. But the truth is, genetically it is perfectly possible for white-appearing people to carry enough black genes to produce a darker looking child with African features. The history of South Africa is such that 300 years ago, the Dutch arrived without their womenfolk, and as a student so charmingly put it to me, they fertilized with the locals. The result is a large population of mixed people…Sandra, can you say whether your family ever was able to trace the black ancestry?

Sandra: They haven’t find [sic]  anything. I didn’t know my father’s mother. It can be, maybe she was darker.

Anthony:  What happens very often in these instances, and as you see in the case of Adriaan, Sandra’s younger brother, is that as soon as somebody passes for white, their black ancestry is swept under the carpet. There’s a pretense that it never existed. That’s why it’s been so difficult to trace Sandra’s black ancestors. It’s possibly only two generations back somebody looked mixed in their family. Most Afrikaners will tell you that they have some kind of black blood. You can see it in its myriad forms when you are there.

Skin: Sandra Laing, Ella Ramangwane and Sophie Okonedo.
Sandra and actresses Ella Ramangwane and Sophie Okonedo.

29 Comments so far
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It saddeneds me that Sandra had to lead such a cold and hypocritical life at the hands of those who should have loved her most. I enjoyed the film although it was at times very hard to see Sandra suffer the way she did. I hope her future is much brighter!

Comment by Sonia

HI SANDRA what r you doing now how are your childer how many do you have i love your show and you for stand up for your self

Comment by Janet Jones

Hi Sandra,
What a rough time you led earlier, I hope the school that treated you so badly continues to remember the lessons learned at your expense.
Your grandchildren must be a pleasure for you.
Jan (Aus)

Comment by jan fenn

I saw the movie Skin and was so moved. I belong to a book club and I would like to introduce my book club to your story. Is there a book or a screen play that we could read?
Thank you,
Magaly Penn –

Comment by Magaly Penn

I saw the movie about your life and was deeply moved. I am of mixed race from the United States born in the 70’s and could relate to the difficultly fitting into society. Not acceptable by whites and not by blacks either, although I fit in more with blacks I still had to deal with racial comments. I Think GOD allows perhaps in your case for your black African genes to emerge in a time and place like south Africa during apartheid is to teach those around a valuable lesson. We are all Gods children

Comment by Kelli Rodriguez

I just saw the movie for the first time. I am very familiar with the history of apartheid but this just brought it home again all over! Maybe there are others like Sandra who had a same or similar story. I cannot imagine how brave you and others must be, Sandra, to have survived all of this. Thank you for sharing your story!

Comment by Irene

I just saw the movie for the first time and I was just amazed by this story. It is the story of the whole world for this world is a mixture. What a wonderful story and beautifully done. Thank you for sharing your story and may God always increase you and your children and theirs.

Comment by Glenis

I am wiping the tears away after watching the film, I can never understand the saddeness, hurt and pain that racial discrimination brings, even to this day… Sandra…you are an amazing woman, thank you for sharing your story…….

Comment by Julie Ann

Sandra, I jus finished watching the movie myself, holing back tears as I write. This movie truly brought out the truth about apartheid that I had NO idea too this degree :(
I will continue to pray for your brothers and beleive they will one day turn thrir thoughts around. You have a spirit as sweet as your Mothers….your Dad, well, I know he loved you but had too much pride! God Bless you always Sandra,

Comment by karen


What a wonderful movie SKIN, very touching. May God contiue
to bless you and your family, and your parents watching over you and yours as angels, They knew that they were wrong and tried to ask forgivness and asked God to watch over you and to bless you for all that has happen to you. It made you a very wise, loving,strongh and beautiful person

Comment by Benita Davis

HI Sandra, My children and I had the pleasure of watching your movie tonite. I am sooo sorry you had to experience this. My great-grandmother’s mother was from Wales and when she came to the states she had a family with a black/american indian man. She was also disowned by her family but later moved back to Wales leaving my great grandmother and her siblings. She never had her original birth records either. Its “said” back then (she thinks she was born in 1900 or 1902) that if you are born to a white mother, you are white. When she (my greatgrandmother) married her and her husband moved from alabama to rossford, oh. She and her sisters came at a later date. Since they we able to “pass” they didn’t have to ride on the black only portion of train. She always laughed about this. Unfortunately her siblings that passed for white more than her disowned her and moved to Detroit, MI who are to this day practicing attorneys who due to association are ashamed of thier other family.
I am so sorry about your dad and your husband, and I am glad that you were able to see your mom again.
I hope you continue to do well (you and your family), and thank you for sharing your story……it showed how racism eventually affects all………

Comment by BHardy

I just want to hug you, after just watching Skin.
I have no words.

Comment by Katie

Love the movie and your family opened my eyes much more about Africa and its’many struggles.

Comment by frank

This movie opened me up to be the best mother that I can be . Thank u

Comment by Kim

hi sandra,you haue change the world,not just south africa but the world at large. skin is motiuating and educatiue, after watching the moviee my mentality changed for good and great, i have new now dreams .thank you very much, i love you.

Comment by Egwuoko paul uro

Hi Sandra I just watched your life story,it made me very said. I pray that your childern and grandchildren have a better life than you did growing up. If they are as strong as you are, and you taught them ” never give up” I hope they are making this word a better place for all of God beautiful childern.

Comment by Ivory

Wow this was a touching story. I just finished watching the movie. It made me cry a bit. Sandra you are a really brave person for going through all of this and also sharing your story with us. I wish everyone was Tanned and we can all be the same color so the word racist won’t be made up. To bad I feel that there are many racist people out there. ;-(

Comment by Catherine Reyes

Hello, just finished watching Skin on Netflix. You know as difficult, sad, and unfair the world is I took away from this the very deep love and strenghth you have…oh my goodness you are a great family woman. An inspiration for me to remember and help me keep going too.
Thank you:-)

Comment by Ann Lavelle

God bless Sandra,her family and children.I will never understand the stupidity of many men and how a father can reject his daughter.poor Sandra.I was completly rejected too as a kid not because of my skin color,i am white,and i feel very sad for children that are rejected and expelled from school.Any child and human being has the right to live and be accepted by others..God bless Sandra.

Comment by severina

Anyway it’s God that creates human beings and that gave you your skin colour Sandra.You can be proud of who you are.You are a good person i guess.Greetings from France.I almost cried when the teacher beats you at school and you are expelled.That’s so unfair! But you fought hard and never lost hope.It’s very beautiful.

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