Too few of us realize the atrocities of Apartheid, a social and political policy of racial segregation and discrimination enforced by white minority governments in South Africa from 1948 to 1994. 'The term apartheid (from the Afrikaans word for "apartness") was coined in the 1930s and used as a political slogan of the National Party in the early 1940s, but the policy itself extends back to the beginning of white settlement in South Africa in 1652. After the primarily Afrikaner Nationalists came to power in 1948, the social custom of apartheid was systematized under law. The implementation of the policy, later referred to as "separate development," was made possible by the Population Registration Act of 1950, which put all South Africans into three racial categories: Bantu (black African), white, or Coloured (of mixed race).' Yes, everyone knows the story of Nelson Mandela and the end of Apartheid, but too few of us recognize the appalling effects of that system on the peoples of South Africa. This true story should alter that and perhaps bring a higher degree of respect for those who survived that ugly system. Based on the book 'When She Was White' by Judith Stone, Anthony Fabian wrote the story (with Helen Crawley, Jessie Keyt and Helena Kriel) and directs this terrifying but ultimately triumphant film - a story we shall not soon forget.
Abraham and Lannie Laing (Sam Neill and Alice Krige) are Afrikaans who live and work their general store in the countryside with their two children Sandra (Ella Ramangwane as the young Sandra and Sphie Okenedo as the mature Sandra) and Henry. The Laings have sequestered themselves because their daughter appears black. Abraham constantly defends the 'whiteness' of his daughter at every level of the government and finally the Laings obtain admission to private white school for Sandra and Henry. The school quickly dismisses Sandra because she 'is black', is beaten by teachers, and the school calls in doctors and other government support to back their opinion. But through the tireless efforts of Abraham he finally gets a certification of Sandra's 'whiteness'. Sandra faces intolerance from the community but finds solace in the attention of a 'kaffir', Petrus Zwane (Tony Kgoroge) and in time the frustrated Sandra accepts the warmth of Petrus and they fall in love. Abraham is furious and casts Sandra out of his home: Sandra and Petrus move into a black village and have babies until the whites demand the land on which the blacks are living and destroy Sandra and Petrus's home. Petrus turns to drink and blames his loss of all his goods on marrying a 'white girl': Sandra and her now three children move to Johannesburg to find safety and employment, having been rejected by Sandra's parents. When the Apartheid is banished Sandra becomes a spokesperson for her people and her country because she 'never gave up'.
In this history of the Apartheid the impact is made so very much stronger by the fact that the film shows both sides of the struggle - from the white viewpoint and the black viewpoint. Sandra's father may have fought against the prejudice but when his daughter accepts being black, he is as raw and prejudiced as the rest of the whites. Sandra's mother (played with compassion by Alice Krige) maintains her love and support of her beloved daughter but by societal demands she must bow to her husband's wishes. As Sandra Sophie Okenedo shines in a performance that is brilliantly three dimensional - she is an enormously gifted actress. The entire large cast is excellent, recreating a period in history we can only hope will never happen again. This is a wholly satisfying film.
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