News and updates about SKIN

Here is a report from Sibongile Makhaya, a bi-racial South African woman who worked with me on the SKIN script development workshops we conducted with fifteen actors in Johannesburg in 2004. She now lives in Washington DC and attended last week's packed screenings at Filmfest DC. I asked her to do the Q&A, as I was unable to attend. There seems to have been quite a large South African contingent at the screening!

Mr. Tony Gittens, Director of FilmFest DC, and I watched and waited patiently as commuters and other folks from DC arrived in groups; many ran up the escalators and headed for theatre 11, right up to the last minute.  It had been a packed house on Friday, when I first saw SKIN. Tonight it outsold all other movies.

I was amazed how many people had reserved seats for each other.  People had planned their evening in groups of 5 or more even.  A movie of this caliber does not come often. Pondering over the diversity of the audience and their expectations, I scanned the theatre as it filled up.  Perhaps they were looking for a chance to see racial absurdities expressed in detail (especially since race, and racism, have taken a back seat to the historic inauguration which took place a few blocks away from the theatre); or maybe they came to see the inspirational strength of a burdened woman; or perhaps just to indulge in a movie from Sub-Saharan Africa.  Of one thing I was certain – there would be very few dry eyes as the credits rolled.

But I was the first to cry.  From the moment Miriam Makeba's voice bellowed from the screen, I realized that I was finally here, seeing the script come alive, home again.

Soon the audience began to interact with the characters in ways I never expected. Individual gasps are not unusual, but these were collective comments, particularly from women who were seeking to reconfirm their responses.  I had never enjoyed being disturbed in a movie like this before. This audience indeed had access.  It was not only acquired through the intimacy of the event but through the outrage freely demonstrated as the movie progressed.  With each pivotal, disturbing and heartbreaking moment, the anger grew and spread, until the audience had amassed enough courage to vocalize this outrage.  Each comment illustrated how cognisant we were of the cage almost all the characters were locked in. The same was true for the actors of the South African script development workshops I took part in, in May 2004: they would hold their heads in despair, unable to find a way out of the pain their characters had to endure.

There was consequently much to discuss during the Q&A after Monday night’s screening.  Resembling the two weeks of script workshops, this diverse group of people articulated the characters’ journeys and weighed them against their own experiences. Whilst I waited for the opportunity to begin the session, a woman walked up to me.  She was in tears (as were many other people), but hers were still pouring as she thanked me and added how much the movie reminded her of her mother.  “I miss my mother so much”, she stated, as her tears continued to stream down her face.  I hugged her and listened to her husband proudly informing me that they too were African (Ethiopian). Some of the audience required more information about the tenets of apartheid, its race classification system and the history of South Africa from the time Europeans settled there.  A lady stood up to remind us of the horrors of the “Stolen Generation” in Australia and how one could compare the whole country’s history to that of South Africa…and the United States.

Others commented on the strangeness of using Zulu and Swazi for the black characters, but only English for the Afrikaaners (specifically the Laings).  From there rose a discussion on the use of language in the country, with other South Africans raising their hands to add comments (and help!).  One of the most interesting queries was concerning the issue of redemption: Of all the people who had hurt Sandra Laing, only Petrus Zwane had not been given the opportunity to “redeem himself”.  This comment was to be broadened outside the theatre after more people came up to thank me for the movie as the Q&A came to a close.  Later, the elections being held in South Africa two days after this screening were also brought up.  “From the years depicted in “Skin” to today, what has changed?  Is it really too late?”

In my attempts to elucidate the triumphs and hopes from the heavy days of apartheid, I tried to be as concise as possible; I still had to answer for the absence of Petrus Zwane in the movie in the later stages of Sandra’s life.  Huddled outside the theatre, two young men emphasized their hearty impressions and explained why they would have preferred to witness Petrus’ redemption. “Skin” moved people and spoke out about a legion of topics that hardly see the light of day in the arts and media; it appealed to those who encountered and felt aligned to its varying themes, including the frustrated and consequently sometimes abusive men of colour. This last lingering question regarding Petrus reiterated the intensity of “Skin” and all it implies. -- Sibongile Makhaya
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A Friend
September 19, 2010

I am not sure who this comment is addressed to - Sibongile Makhaya? The term biracial in this case simply denotes that her father is white and her mother is black. This does not in any way suggest there is a value attributed to either parent or to the term 'race'. You are quite right, whatever characteristics distinguish us physically, we are all part of the human race and are bound together by our common humanity.

September 18, 2010

i haven't seen you in a long time, met on the 1 september (wits theater). i thought about this for a long time, before writing this.i need this from you, please put me out of this nightmare.

on the issue of skin well, you say you are bi-racial. i have never had of it and i think its a problamitic idea.i.e categorising people based on their appearance hence exploitation of the idea - Apartheid. if you are biracial then some are tri-racial, quadraple racial, single racial, Micheal Jackson, wits university origins center and it goes on and on. there is only one race that is the human race. Beauty is skin deep. But its just a view from Soweto, I don't know other peoples experiences and views. i haven't watched the movie yet

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