Race and Film: The Release of Skin

by Melissa Silverstein on August 20, 2009

in Actresses,Marketing,Racism

Sandra Laing and Sophie Okonedo

Sandra Laing and Sophie Okonedo

Interesting story out of England about how director Anthony Fabian is resorting to guerrilla type outreach tactics to raise awareness and get an audience to see his new film Skin starring Oscar nominated actress Sophie Okonedo. The film premiered at Toronto last year and won awards at last winter’s Pan African film festival in LA.  Here is my piece from last winter with a link to the trailer.

But it can’t get distribution here in the US and is in very limited distribution in London because as Fabian says, it is a story about black people. I would also venture to guess that because it is about a woman it makes it even harder.

Here’s what he was told:

“I was told by a respectable distributor in Britain that it would not distribute a film with a black cast,” he said. “That appears to be the attitude in the industry. These films are perceived not to make money. So [because we didn't have a major distributor] we did not have any trailers in cinemas, or posters on the underground, or posters on the sides of buses,” he said.

Here’s a description:

It tells the story of Sandra Laing, played by Okonedo, who was born to white parents but was classified as “coloured” during the Apartheid era. The biopic depicts the struggle of her parents – who were white with black ancestry – to have her re-classified in order to provide her with a formal education in a “whites-only” school.

Director Anthony Fabian refuses to allow his film to go away and he has literally taken to the streets, as have other members of the film’s team and a few people from the public, to let people know that the film is playing.

Those of you in London should get out there and support this film.  If I was working on the film I would have them reach out to women’s film organizations like The Bird’s Eye Film Festival and Women in Film and TV in London and have them organize their members.  I have  a sneaking suspicion that if it fails to get any type of audience in London we will never see it here.

An apartheid story no one would screen (The Independent)

Update- In EW fall preview they have Skin opening in the US on October 30.

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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Matt Mazur August 20, 2009 at 10:21 AM

I thought the film was a bit of a mess — I think it is unfortunate that the director has encountered so many obstacles, but ultimately, that might be because the film is so decidedly mediocre.

Not being cheeky, but this could play well on cable, in a Lifetime-movie type situation. If they went this route, Sophie Okonedo might get some Emmy traction. the reality of a film of this quality getting promoted on a grand scale (ie — posters on the subway, trailers, etc.) might be grim, but there are alternative avenues that could be just as lucrative and high profile.

As far as the race issue — yes, it is a problem, but the tide seems to be turning a bit this year, and I think that Precious is going to be the film that turns it hard. I think we’re going to start seeing films and tv shows centered around women of color even more after this year. At least I hope!

Karen August 20, 2009 at 3:42 PM

@Matt
Cable might have been a wise option especially since high-profile actresses like Drew Barrymore (Grey Gardens) got some solid Emmy attention there.

Faye August 20, 2009 at 6:45 PM

For the most part, I agree with Matt. The film is a bit of a mess and would be bettered served – with a bit more editing- on HBO. I wanted to like this but the screenplay wasn’t as strong as it could have been and just seemed rushed.

Nell August 20, 2009 at 8:50 PM

This may sound silly, but this seems like a project the would go over well on Oprah’s network. Maybe the director can try to contact someone with Harpo studios, and may be able to get some buzz that way.

Nell August 20, 2009 at 8:52 PM

besides, there has been a lot of mediocre films that have been heavily promoted, and were complete junk, recently, “The Ugly Truth” comes to mind.

maybe it could go straight to video?

Alice August 22, 2009 at 4:56 AM

This is a problem for many filmmakers who do not understand the market for their movies. All filmmakers owe it to themselves to think about the potential audience of the film. I am a black woman and I can tell you that I have no intention of seeing Skin and it’s not because of the subject matter (the story itself is fascinating) but because of the treatment of it. Fabian was not the right director to make this film – and that’s another factor filmmakers should consider: just because you find a good story, it doesn’t mean that you have the sensitivity and wherewithal to tell it.

d September 11, 2009 at 1:59 PM

I’m sorry, but we will NEVER have real parity unless both of these are allowed to come out in the actual theatres, and find its audience. Even if this film was a mess, like Nell said, there has been many mediocre to simply bad films. Why would this one be shunted off to cable/dvd and not the others. Why can’t this have a small but limited run like many other indie films (at least on the coasts). I was SO happy to read at the end that it will be showing in October. I’ll definitely be there. I love Sophie Okonedo!

Precious looks great, but that can’t be the only story that defines the issues of women of african descent. The combination fo the two films, along with others, would do a much better job, and I hope we eventually get there.

And frankly I am glad that a film is finally beginning to take a hard look at the genetics behind what we think a race is. I don’t know how successful this one was, but hopefully this is just the first of many.

Liam September 15, 2009 at 4:57 AM

I can’t believe the nonsense people write on here – commenting on a film they haven’t even seen! One person decides it’s a mess and everyone joins in like a chorus of parrots. This film is brilliant and EXTRAORDINARILY powerful – that’s why it keeps winning awards (10 to date) and audiences are intensely moved by it. Myself, I’ve seen it twice and enjoyed it even more the second time. This is the kind of thing that floors me: “I can tell you that I have no intention of seeing Skin… Fabian was not the right director to make this film” How the hell does she know if this was the right director? Has she seen all his work? And this one: “The film is a bit of a mess and would be bettered served with a bit more editing… it just seemed rushed.” So it needs editing, but it seemed rushed? I am here to tell you all, this film is a future classic and deserves every prize it is given: it is thought-provoking, exquisitely made, pitch-perfect performances and anyone who thinks it’s a mess should go and make their own damn movie – I’d love to see if they could do better.

Carlo Mendez September 16, 2009 at 12:12 PM

I never usually respond to this kind of thing but I saw SKIN in New York and loved it, so much so that I find it hard to believe that these people who thought it was ‘a mess’ saw the same film!!! I felt compelled to write as I found the film to be so powerful and important and well done. I can only imagine that the artistry and the subtly was completely lost on these people.
I could not sit idly by and let them undermine such a wonderful piece of work without redressing the balance, I urge everyone to go and see it, it’s AMAZING!!!!
Bravo to all those involved in the making of SKIN. Please don’t let these negative people put you off from experiencing this film, it has so much to offer and it made me look deeper into myself, I hope the film does well and goes on to win many more awards.

d September 18, 2009 at 12:39 PM

I know I myself am not going to vehemently go against someone’s opinion if I haven’t seen the movie, or am very familiar with some part of it, but it’s nice to know that there are differing opinions; I love Sophie, and she just doesn’t seem to get enough work.

But that’s why this film, as well as many other films, should be released – even if in limited run – so we can all judge for ourselves.

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