Skin is a biographical drama about the life of former white supremacist Bryon ‘Pitbull’ Widner, who, after falling in love, takes it upon himself to radically alter his life path for the better.
While many would shudder at the thought that others might consider them prejudiced, in moments of true and honest introspection it is human to admit that we might have preconceived notions about people who are different from ourselves in one way or another.
It’s probably best we let the academics argue over whether such unconscious predispositions can be considered inherently racist, but it is a question that actor Jamie Bell, who plays the lead role in the movie Skin, wrestled with during the process of the filming the movie.
Based on a true story, Bell portrays Bryon ‘Pitbull’ Widner – a violent white-supremacist who after falling in love with and marrying his partner and then becoming a father – begins to question his own assumptions, biases and hate.
This eventually leads to him turning his back on everything and everyone he once held dear, working as an informant with the FBI, and undergoing laser removal of his many tattoos – an agonising two-year ordeal captured in the 2011 documentary, Erasing Hate.
Bell, though critically acclaimed for his intense portrayal of Bryon, shares little in common with the former Neo-Nazi.
The 33-year-old British actor is laidback, enjoys hanging out with friends, playing video games and walking his dog in his spare time.
This is the same man who fell in love with the role of Tintin because he finds the cartoon character ‘incredibly driven and morally correct’.
Playing Bryon, however, made Bell consider his own imperfections and his susceptibility to pass judgement on others.
“This character is so far away from who I am, his detachment from compassion, from empathy, from kindness – from humanity,” he said in a recent interview.
“Essentially at certain points as we grow up, we’re all guilty until we learn otherwise. And then we adjust ourselves and have a course of correction and go ‘that’s wrong, I need to change that behaviour’.”
For director Guy Nattiv, Skin is not an indictment but rather a realisation that while we’re all guilty of biases, we are also capable of going beyond our inherent prejudice.
“Bryon Widner and I met five years ago. He was the first neo-Nazi skinhead I met,” Guy, whose grandparents were Holocaust survivors, said.
“So, we met in a coffee shop, in a no man’s land. It was bizarre, surreal, but we became best friends. He became like family, which goes to show you that it’s all about brainwashing those kids. It’s all about the hate that you’ve been taught as a kid.”
He continued: “That’s the message of the film, that a lot of these people were being taught since they were kids to hate, and when they want to do the shift to become better people, we need to have an open door for acceptance.”
Also starring: Danielle Macdonald, Bill Camp, Louisa Krause and Zoe Colletti