An apartheid story no one would screen

Distributors would not take on a film with a black cast – so director promoted it himself

It is a film that tells the extraordinary "real-life" story of a black baby born to white parents in apartheid South Africa, which bears a six-figure budget, a Hollywood actor in its cast and a clutch of respectable write-ups from the critics.

So when only 30 people showed up for the first night of the UK countrywide release of Skin, starring Sam Neill and the Oscar-nominated Sophie Okonedo, at the Odeon at Panton Street in central London, its director Anthony Fabian was understandably worried.

In the absence of a major distributor to promote his film, he decided to take the matter into his own hands and sent out his very own team of "guerilla marketers" across London to advertise the drama. He has since spent weeks canvassing support himself and handing out flyers outside cinemas, while Hélène Muddiman, who wrote the musical score for the film, has visited Waterloo Station wearing a sandwich board. Since then, around 15 members of the public have joined his campaign.

Yesterday, Mr Fabian, who has previously worked on films including Goldeneye and Hilary and Jackie, starring Emily Watson, told The Independent that he was determined not to let the film sink in spite of limited distribution power.

"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.

Days earlier, he had recorded his shock at the paltry turn-out at the first Panton Street screening of the film, in a blog: "I had a bucket of proverbial cold water thrown over my head: the numbers... had been disastrous. After all this amazing press, editorial coverage, great reviews – how was it possible?... I rang Helen Muddiman, and told her the bad news. 'The film's dead in the water unless the numbers are up this weekend'," he wrote.

Some hard work and persuasive words from Ms Muddiman meant the manager of the Ritzy Cinema in Brixton, agreed to hold some screenings. "She went to the cinema personally to enthuse about the film and persuaded the manager to show," Mr Fabian said.

It tells the story of Sandra Laing, played by Okonedo, who has previously starred in Doctor Who and Hotel Rwanda, for which she was nominated at the Academy Awards, in 2004. Dark-skinned Laing 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.

Mr Fabian added that the film was nine years in the making, partly because of the sensitive subject matter. "I wanted to deal with the story responsibly, and there was also the difficulty in getting script rights," he said.

As a result of Mr Fabian's efforts, the film has improved on takings, and increased its daily showings. The film's distributor is ICA Films, part of the Institute of Contemporary Arts. While it will not go on general release, a spokeswoman from the ICA said it was being shown in a number of cinemas across the country as well as on DVD.

"I have been getting emails every day from people asking me where they can see the film," said Mr Fabian.

This is not the first time such "guerilla" tactics have been used to promote a film: in 1968, the first film screened by the ICA – Herostratus – recruited an attractive woman to walk the streets of London with a sandwich board.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Feeling all at sea: Barbara's 18-year-old son came under the influence of a Canadian libertarian preacher – and she had to fight to win him back
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Living the high life: Anne Robinson enjoys some skip-surfed soup
TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
Doctor Who and Missy in the Doctor Who series 8 finale

TV
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones