Toronto International Film Festival

TORONTO -- Set against the backdrop of South African apartheid, "Skin," about a dark- skinned girl with tight curls born to a white Afrikaner couple due to some sort of throwback genetic hiccup, serves as a stirring allegory for birthright and the assertion of one's identity in the face of oppression.

But the fact that it's actually based on a true story adds an extra layer of poignancy, heightened further by another superb Sophie Okonedo performance.

A first feature by San Francisco-born Anthony Fabian, this UK-South African co-production was still up for grabs at the end of the Toronto International Film Festival.

For Okonedo's Sandra Laing, the fact that she didn't share a similar complexion to that of her parents and older brother (on her birth certificate she's classified as white) only really becomes an issue when she attends an all-white girls' school.

When the administration finds a lame excuse to expel her, her rigid biological father, Abraham (a rigid Sam Neill) takes on the government in a bid to prove her "whiteness," but his tireless fight seems to have more to do with his discomfort with her perceived ethnicity than to uphold his daughter's civil rights.

Things between them reach point of no return when Sandra finds herself attracted to a young black man rather than the sorry assortment of white guys he chooses for her as potential suitors, with Abraham effectively disowning her and forbidding her mother (a sympathetic Alice Krige) from communicating with her.

Taking a straight-ahead, safely linear approach to the story-telling, writer-director Fabian's heartfelt attentions occasionally flirt with melodrama, but those honest, unaffected portrayals--especially Okonedo's thoroughly believable two-decade age span--ultimately keep the picture on the right emotional track.

Production companies: Moonlighting Films, Bard Entertainment
Cast: Sophie Okonedo, Sam Neill, Alice Krige
Director-screenwriter: Anthony Fabian
Executive producers: Robbie Little
Producer: Margaret Matheson
Director of photography: Jonathan Partridge
Production designer: Billy Keam
Music: Helene Muddiman
Editor: St. John O'Rorke
Sales Agent: The Little Film Company
Not yet rated, 107 minutes.