In ‘Skin’ director Guy Nattiv takes you into Bryon Widner’s battle with a neo-nazi white supremacist group he once considered his family.
Prior to the lights dimming, executive producer Peter Sobiloff stood before the audience to set the tone. In a brief speech, Mr. Soblioff informed the room that over the last decade, more than 70% of homicides committed in the United States are at the hands of neo-nazi white supremacist groups. In saying this, he preparing the audience for a troubling story that is uniquely American.
We begin with a group of neo-nazis chanting “blood and soil” as they march toward another group of protesters lead by Daryle Jenkins (played by Mike Colter). Leading the charge, Bryon Widner, face filled and body covered in tattoos appears steadfast in his stance on race in America. To him and those behind him, America is and will always belong to the white race.
As you might expect, the interaction between both groups doesn’t bode well for either side. What starts out as a shouting match, promptly results in acts of violence.
One such act of violence, marking a young black man with the “SS” symbol leaves Widner feeling uneasy. It is here where we see Widner start to question his existence within this group. To numb the pain, he drinks his sorrows into submission, allowing him to continue to exist within the confines of this nightmare.
“Skin” then takes us into the world of this neo-nazi group, the Vinlanders Social Club of Indiana. We observe as the leader of the group, Fred “Hammer” Kager (played by Bill Camp) announcing that he will be running for office. Bryon Widner appears to fully support Kager, whom he refers to as “pa” in the film.
After leaving the stage, a trio of girls are encouraged to perform a song by their mother, a former neo-nazi named Julie Price (played by Danielle MacDonald). A disgruntled audience member viciously heckles the three girls, even throwing beer cans at them.
This leads Price to remove the girls from the stage for fear of their safety. Seeing this, Widner starts to show some humanity. He instantly charges the heckler, demanding he apologizes to the girls and their mother.
Later, he asks Price what she was doing there in the first place. She explains that they need the money and she doesn’t know another way to make it. Here, Widner and Price share a look. This is perhaps the first time Widner sees hope in his future and it lies with Price.
At this point in “Skin,” Bryon Widner is at a crossroads. He starts to notice that his club isn’t quite what it seems.
Having been arrested and questioned for the act of violence against the young black man at the start of the film, Widner is later released and picked up by Kager. On the drive back to the club, Kager and Widner stop near a group of homeless youth. Among them is a young white kid, poor and hungry.
We, along with Widner, see how Kager uses brainwashing techniques to recruit the boy. In many ways, the boy is a young version of Widner. The food and housing an enticing reason to join a hate-group like the Vinlanders Social Club.
Later, Widner asks the boy why he agreed to get in the car with him and Kager. Unhappy with the boy’s response, Widner urges him to leave. This is the first time we see Widner indulge in some self-reflection and voicing his displeasure with the club
Now, after indulging in a bit of a love story between Julie Price and Bryon Widner, Widner realizes that perhaps he doesn’t want to play a roll in this social club any longer. He briefly seeks the help of Daryle Jenkins, an African-American man devoted to un-brain washing neo-nazis, but quickly abandons the plan.
Instead, he plans to just leave the group altogether. No announcement, no big to-do, just a flat out abandonment.
However, upon moving in with Julie and taking on the role of father to her three girls, Widner starts to feel the difficulties of life as a regular citizen covered in racist tattoos. People don’t want to hire you, so you take on difficult jobs with little pay.
His life as a regular citizen is short-lived, however, because the Vinlanders soon discover where he is, and upon meeting with him, they threaten the things he loves most.
This is when the film is at it’s best. The tension in the room is palpable. Widner has finally shed the part of himself he hates most but is being dragged back in against his will. Will he return to his old ways? Or fight back and stay true to his new, better self?
“Skin” is out in theatres now!