Skin

Movie review by
S. Jhoanna Robledo, Common Sense Media
Skin Movie Poster Image
Intense family drama about race, identity during apartheid.
  • PG-13
  • 2009
  • 107 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

The movie offers the powerful message that strength can be found from within. But it also suggests that while parents may be well-meaning, they don’t always do the right thing and are sometimes too weak to fight an entrenched, unjust society.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Sandra is strong and hopeful despite setbacks. She clearly knows who she is, which sees her through good times and bad. Her parents are more complicated figures, whose decisions are sometimes based on fear.

Violence

Several disturbing scenes of bigotry. A teacher uses corporal punishment in the classroom. A man arms himself with a gun to protect his family. A child rubs bleach all over herself in an attempt to make her skin whiter. A mother slaps her daughter. A man fires a gun at another man, who is later beaten by cops. A ritual involves cutting a baby’s skin. A man breaks a car window and menacingly touches his wife. Cops ransack and raze a village. A man beats his wife.

Sex

A half-dressed man caresses a fully clothed woman. Lovers are shown lounging in bed under covers, their shoulders bare.

Language

A man calls a woman a “bitch” after she resists his unwanted advances.

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A man drinks beer at home.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Skin is a complicated drama about racial politics and family relationships that follows a girl born to white parents but who has a dark complexion and black features. Set in South Africa during apartheid, the film deals with heavy and complicated themes that younger children may not quite grasp. But teens will appreciate the message -- that identity is much more than just skin deep. Expect scenes of explicit bigotry and some racially motivated violence.

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What's the story?

A white family in 1950s South Africa, unfamiliar with their own mixed-race ancestry, is shocked when their dark-complexioned daughter is "re-classified" as a black person at a time when apartheid was the law, only to have that decision reversed once more. But as a teenager, Sandra (Sophie Okonedo) grows tired of the bigotry and challenges the system once more when she falls for, and elopes with, a black man. Much to her dismay, her father (Sam Neill), who harbors prejudices of his own, reports them to the police, who arrest them. Finding herself at a juncture, Sandra makes a decision that estranges her from her family. But her fight to define herself beyond the color of her skin, whether considered black or white, continues long after.

Is it any good?

If a film’s ability to perturb audiences is an indication of how good it is, then SKIN is superb, indeed. It’s told with alarming straightforwardness, which only serves to heighten the horror of the bigotry that unfolds onscreen. But what makes it even better is how it anchors the politics and history with human emotions, allowing viewers to feel just what it’s like to walk in Sandra’s shoes -- how enraging it must have been to be discriminated against; how confusing it must have been to discover that the those who have always protected you, your parents, can harbor such tragically limited ideas about race; and how isolating it must be to hear the man you love condemn a group of people with whom you also identify, and worse.

The film does have its problems, including slack pacing and uninspired storytelling that sometimes robs it of suspense and drama. But neither one is critical enough to scar.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about apartheid. What do you think about this policy of institutionalized racism? How does it compare to periods of U.S. history?

  • How does Sandra's story illustrate the complicated definition of race? What kinds of questions does her story bring up?

Movie details

For kids who love African-American experience stories

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