Sunday, July 20, 2008

Reel People: Sophie Okonedo is Sandra Laing

The movie is Skin, directed by Elysian Films who has previously directed short films and classical music programs through his company Elysian Films. Anthony Fabian co-wrote the screenplay for his first feature length film with newcomer Helen Crawley.

Sandra Laing

Sandra Laing's story is interesting from her birth. Her uniqueness doesn't begin with achievements, discoveries, or personal politics. Rather it began with her genetics, and her birth.

Sandra Laing's parents Abraham and Sannie Laing where both white people living in the country of South Africa when the apartheid was strong. Abraham and Sannie were both a part of the National Party which strongly supported the apartheid system.

Abraham and Sannie had two sons. Yet, when there daughter was born in 1955 there was something noticeably different about her. Through the power of genetics and recessive traits gave birth to a little "black" baby. Her skin was dark brown in color and her hair was black and frizzy.

Obviously, this created tons of classification problems. Was she white or was she black? Obviously her parents wanted her to be a part of white society, but others had a problem with their children associating with Sandra. Her white parents enrolled her in a white school (all schools were segregated) and they hoped that she would get lighter in color as she grew older. Instead her skin grew darker in color.

When Sandra was ten the school were she was enrolled expelled her and she was escorted off the school property. Her parents fought the legal system so that Sandra could be classified as white and be allowed to be enrolled in a white school. Abraham Laing even went through paternity testing to prove that he was indeed Sandra's father. The legal battles were unsuccessful.

In addition to not being accepted by the Afrikaner community, Sandra also was not accepted by white children, and was friends with the black children of her parents employees.

Much to her parents disapproval, Sandra eloped with a black man when she was 15 and moved to the country of Swaziland. Her father threatened to kill her, and so Sandra broke off all contact with her parents and lived her own independent life with her husband.

Sandra Laing finally re-established contact with her mother in 2000 when her mother was in a nursing home with Alzheimer's. Her mother did not remember Sandra.


In the film, previous Oscar nominee Sophie Okonedo (Hotel Rwanda) will play the part of Sophie. Sannie and Abraham will be played by Alice Krige (South African native) and Sam Neill. Ella Ramangwane will play the young Sandra.

Will previous nominee Sophie Okonedo get some critical acclaim, and perhaps her second Oscar nomination/first win for her portrayal of this Real (Reel) Person?


crackers and cheese said...

What a bizarre genetic manifestation! I'd never heard of such a thing, and what a controversial event to occur in apartheid South Africa. Definitely looks like an interesting film premise, and with so few films having strong female roles, this could definitely gain some Oscar attention.

Anonymous said...

With a right direction, a good script and a talented actress like Sophie Okonedo, that sounds interesting premise and Oscar Worthy... And the film has perfect ingredients (Victim + Apartheid + Real character + Strong female lead).

Michael Parsons said...

One can only hope. This year seems like it could be a cracker year for Woman. then again we say that every year.

Anonymous said...

I think it's called a genetic "sport", a person in whom traits of great-great grandparents (etc) show up, even though those traits have lain dormant for a number of generations. I read that this case changed the law in South Africa, so the offspring of two "white" parents is legally "white" no matter what their physical appearance.

Her dad sounds pretty unpleasant, which s too bad, as I like the actor (Sam Neil) playing the part. A really tough story to do right, I would think. But definitely something to arouse a lot of discussion.

Unknown said...

I attended the LA premiere of this film Thursday. Read my review at Hollywood As I Live & Work. It's scheduled for US release October 30th.