New Film Tells Story of White Supremacist Who Found Redemption Through Finding Faith in Jesus

Jamie Bell stars in “Skin,” directed by Guy Nattiv. Photo courtesy of A24

Filled with sex, violence and profanity, it may not be the feel-good movie of the summer.

And Academy Award-winning filmmaker Guy Nattiv is careful to note it’s not a redemption story.

But Nattiv’s new film, “Skin” — inspired by the true story of Bryon Widner’s departure from white supremacy — is, at its core, a story about good and evil and people’s capacity to change.

“I really wanted to tell a story that deals with forgiveness and acceptance,” Nattiv said.

It’s hard to ask people to forgive, the Israeli filmmaker said. But acceptance is a different matter. If you can’t accept someone who wants to leave hate behind, he said, you don’t give them a chance to change.

And Widner wanted to change.

He spent more than a decade as part of Vinlanders Social Club, a white supremacist group that becomes “Viking Social Club” in Nattiv’s telling. In the mid-2000s, Widner and his wife decided to leave the movement, according to the Associated Press.

But starting a new life was difficult, as Widner’s face and body were covered with white supremacist tattoos.

He found an unlikely ally in the help of Daryle Lamont Jenkins of One People’s Project.

One People’s Project grew out of a protest against a Nationalist Movement rally in 2000 in New Jersey, tracking, publicizing and even confronting people and groups that are part of what has become known as the “alt-right.”

It has been called the “most mainstream and well-known anti-fascist, or antifa, organization.”

Jenkins didn’t set out to help get people out of white supremacy — that just happened by “default,” he said. Eventually, people grow up and want out.

“Our attitude has been, well, we’ll keep the door open for you. You just gotta walk through,” he said. “In the meantime, if you don’t walk through, we still gotta do what we gotta do.”

Those people have to have a sense of atonement — they have to feel the need to atone for what they have done, Jenkins said. He can’t do that for them.

But he does hope to be a “guiding light” that can illuminate the path so they can map their way out.

“I just keep saying this line: You recognize their humanity, recognize them for who they are; but at the same token, you also want to try to encourage them to recognize their humanity. That’s really the mission in the long run.”

Jenkins, whose father was a drug counselor and mother is an elder in her church, said he has seen too many people use faith as a weapon to push others away rather than extend it as a ladder to those who seem unreachable.

People like Widner are “looking for something,” Jenkins said. “They’re looking for hope in their life, and that’s what faith provides. That’s what Christ provides.”

There are no overt mentions of religion in “Skin,” aside from the white supremacists’ mentions of “the Odin gods” of their ancestors.

But the 2011 documentary “Erasing Hate,” documenting Widner’s painful treatments to remove the tattoos from his face and hands after leaving the white supremacist gang, hints at the role religion played in the real-life story.

Widner’s family bows their heads in prayer, and his father-in-law expresses surprise at finding faith in Jesus after years of spewing racism.

Christianity has helped Widner overcome some of his demons and obstacles, Nattiv said.

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Source: Religion News Service