While you’d think Skin was simply about the transformative power of tattoos, and their removal, Israeli director Guy Nattiv clearly had much more in mind when he turned to the subject of racism in America and the true life tale of former Neo-Nazi Bryon Widner.
Beyond the beauty of midwest fall and winter landscapes the film is brutal, which shouldn’t be a surprise. But it wasn’t only the hate crimes and physical violence. It was also the deep undercurrents of emotional torment flowing through every single person affected by these racial tensions, these heartbreaking events that continue to spark further reactions, more brutality.
But the moments of destruction are punctuated with Bryon Widner’s personal struggle to forego his past not only internally, but externally. We watch Widner, played by Jamie Bell, go through a succession of experiences leading him to embrace the full wish to shed his outer markings. But he’s turned away from doctors offices after they find out he’s on the FBI's watchlist. It’s common for criminals to go to great lengths to hide from authorities by removing identifying marks and although Widner's efforts aren't of a malicious or illegal nature, it seems he's merely shoved deeper into the reputation he had previously built for himself.
Widner proves himself, not only to Jenkins, but to his partner Julie Price, played by Danielle Macdonald, that his remorse is real. Arrangements are made for them to go undercover after Widner gives the FBI necessary information to bring down key players in large Neo-Nazi factions. Not only are they placed in a witness protection program, but a sponsor was found to fund Widner's tattoo removals.
For me, this film explicitly shows that tattoos, the imagery we carve onto ourselves, is important. You wear these things for a long time, or you go through more pain to remove them. Tattoos are an integral part of what you say to the outside world, and that shouldn’t be taken lightly. But, again, Skin isn’t only about tattoo removal or transformation, it’s not only about a man trying to escape a past that he himself fully participated in, it’s not just about racism or hate crimes. Skin also expressed that our actions, our beliefs, have the power to mold our futures in deeply serious ways. The film speaks on the sense of responsibility, and accountability, that we should all share, especially as the Neo-Nazi, white supremacist, and extreme right-wing movements continue to exist and gain traction.
And it is constant. On June 26th, Canada decided to ramp up action against Neo-Nazis, and other extremist groups, saying that they were terrorists, and a threat to national security. On July 15th BBC news covered the Italian police who had found a ‘combat-ready’ missile, a slew of weaponry, and Nazi memorabilia leading to the arrests of Neo-Nazi sympathizers. The murder of Walter Lübcke, “a pro-migrant politician in the state of Hesse”, in June by a person with ties to Combat 18, “a violent Neo-Nazi group which originated in Britain but has spread to other European countries and also has chapters in the United States and Canada.” has ignited fears that an extremist uprising is, indeed, imminent.
Guy Nattiv, with his film Skin, has put the pressure on a multitude of points that need regular visibility, support, and conversation: from the power of tattoos, and tattoo removal, to the devious scheming and manipulations of hate groups recruiting young kids, to the long standing effects of hate crimes, to the deeply ingrained ideals of racism across the globe. It may not be my favorite movie ever, nor is it the best film of its kind, but, thanks to the acting skills of the cast, Skin stands with many other works of art that remind us of our own humanity, empathy, and obligation to uphold tolerance, compassion, and the obliteration of hate in any form.