Skin – Review [Tribeca 2019]

Skin is playing at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival. Find screening information HERE.

By Rachel M.

Skin, a full-length film by Guy Nativ, the Israeli director who just won an Oscar for Best Live Action Short for a film with the same name, has its US premiere this week at the Tribeca Film Festival. With a meaningful name for a film about tattoos, “skinheads” and racism, Nativ forces us to look beyond the “skin-deep” level at the film’s anti-hero.

The film is inspired by true events that took place in Columbus, Ohio in 2009. As the adopted son of two committed leaders of their local neo-Nazi sect, Bryon Widner’s (Jamie Bell) life had been shaped by the white supremacist movement. Covered head to toe in coded tattoos, Widner is a walking embodiment of the world in which he was raised. His “family” fills their nights with wanton acts of hate-fueled violence and fascist marches. At one event, he meets Julie (Danielle Macdonald), a single mother looking to raise her daughters outside of the influence of the extremist movement, and through their relationship begins to imagine a new life.

Widner starts to feel guilty about the violence he has been involved with, particularly a slashing of a black teen. He tries to burn his own face to feel the same pain. The audience begins to see a soul underneath the tattooed skin. The film depicts how difficult it is to leave the movement and how the neo-Nazis threaten Bryon and his new girlfriend. Widner begins to work with the One People’s Project, led by Daryle Lamont Jenkins (Mike Colter), which fights white supremacists and assists those trying to leave. With support from Daryle and the Southern Poverty Law Center, Bryon is able to combat the grip the sect has on him. He has to sacrifice a lot in the process.

The film is framed by a series of scenes depicting Bryon’s tattoo removal surgeries. Nineteen procedures over 645 days are required to remove all signs of Widner’s prior life. He will be judged by his skin, much the way he judged others by theirs.

Depicting one man’s difficult path to redemption from the darkest corners of the human soul, Skin is a haunting story told with an authentic and deeply distressing point of view. The film shows a world not usually portrayed in feature films. While it’s difficult and upsetting to watch, it has an important message for us all.

I give Skin an A-.