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Thursday, May 19, 2022

Souls of black

At a time when the world’s most powerful country has a bi-racial president and Apartheid is a term relegated to the dictionary of complicated,historical practices in public memory,Anthony Fabian made Skin.

Written by PiyasreeDasgupta |
November 17, 2009 2:55:57 am

With his first feature film,director Anthony Fabian keeps the debate on discrimination going

At a time when the world’s most powerful country has a bi-racial president and Apartheid is a term relegated to the dictionary of complicated,historical practices in public memory,Anthony Fabian made Skin. The UK-based director’s first feature film traces the experiences of Sandra Laing,a child born with dark skin to a White couple in South Africa. Sandra,born in 1955 in Apartheid Africa,had dark skin due to some genetic disorder. As she grew up,her parents,colour discriminators themselves,thought that she would turn fairer. Sandra,however,turned darker and nearly resembled African natives. Skin traces her story of rejection,reconciliation and struggle against a world that classifies humans by the colour of their skin. “I am very excited to see what reaction the film triggers in India. I understand that this country too is no stranger to colour politics,” says Fabian at the British Council Library. Skin was screened at the Kolkata Film Festival in the world cinema section.

While it’s tempting to question UK-born Fabian’s understanding of colour discrimination,the director is almost ready with an explanation. “I am a Jew and my family is hardly religious. I was sent to a boarding school in UK and was the only Jew in the whole school. Though it doesn’t compare with Apartheid,I was always made to feel different,” says Fabian defending his understanding of the subject. So it’s easy to figure out why he says that his film is emblematic of ‘something bigger than what is apparent’. “Exclusion is an idea that is universal – as for example how we still deal with immigrants,” he points out.

What drew Fabian to Sandra’s story is the way the family broke down due to a genetic accident. “She was forced to attend a school for the Whites,where she was constantly ridiculed and then thrown out. When she eloped with a coloured man to Africa,her father threatened to kill her and the family broke off all ties. It made me angry,” says Fabian.

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The challenging part of filming Skin was condensing a 30-year-old history of trauma into a continuous two-hour narrative. “Choosing the elements of her story,familiarising people to the science behind her colour condition,without sounding like I was trying to prove her a White and discriminating in the process was difficult,” he recounts. The audience today is also not familiar with the classification system enforced in Apartheid Africa,something Fabian had to introduce them to.

It’s difficult not to get involved in a story like Sandra’s and even more difficult not to give a free rein to your imagination when you make a movie out of it. “People take films very literally. I felt a strong sense of responsibility while retelling Sandra’s story. I tried to be as honest and at the same time,as creative as possible,” explains Fabian whose film has opened in the US and UK to rave reviews and has won several international awards.

It took Fabian seven years to get the cameras rolling and he finally convinced himself and Sandra,that telling her story would do good to the world. “My only worry was,Sandra shouldn’t feel violated,” says Fabian. The protagonist of his story,however,did feel unnerved going through the trauma on celluloid all over again when she saw the first cut,but was cheered up by the people on the set and the little child who played the young Sandra.

“When you choose a story outside your own culture,you have to be on your guard,” says Fabian. But the feeling didn’t mean that Fabian intended to airbrush reality while making the film. “I hate to be controversial,but when people in the UK of USA talk about a race-less society,it’s a bit of a fantasy,” he adds. Skin,he hopes,will pull people out of the state of denial they have retreated into. “The more we pretend to be in a post-racial society,the more dangerous it is. There’s no end to the ills,yet nobody talks about it. Skin intends to keep the debate open and remind the world that we aren’t still there,” says Fabian.

His first film seems to have opened up a lot of doors for him. “I can’t work the way Bollywood does. It’s a product,like Coca Cola… the same formula never goes out of favour,” he laughs. We hope to see more of him too.

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