Guy Nattiv has received an Oscar-nomination for his film, Skin. The powerful short looks at white supremacy and the vicious cycle of hate and racism being taught to the next generation.
“It’s about education” Nattiv says. He was first inspired to tell a story about White Supremacy after reading an article, but this was before Trump. His film became even more timely when Trump was elected and even more so after the events of Charlottesville.
I had a brief chat with Nattiv to talk about his film and how it opened the door to him shooting a feature-length film.
What was the genesis with Skin?
I was in a long distance relationship with my wife and that was four years ago. I was doing my movies and I was looking for a topic that I’d feel connected to. I read an article about this white supremacist and I actually contacted him to do a feature, but while I was waiting for someone to finance the film – a lot of people said no to it. It was before Trump and people thought white supremacy in this country didn’t exist and that it was just an invention. A lot of people were saying, “It’s a cult and there are probably ten in mid-America.”
I was waiting for someone to say yes to this project. Prior to this, a lot of my work was in doing short films in Israel. When you do a short, it helps you to understand how you want to attack it and the visuals. I hadn’t worked with an American crew and American actors before and it’s a different system to the European-Israeli system. I also wanted to do something I hadn’t done before and it was my first rodeo.
This article was in the New York Times about this Neo-Nazi father in Arizona who taught his son how to shoot Mexicans at the border. He has this underground militia with his buddies and one night this guy was coming home from a drunk at a bar and his son thought he was an intruder and he took his father’s gun and killed him. This guy had taught his son to hate and it was late at night, and his son thought he was African-American and he killed him. This unfortunate cycle of violence evoked this idea of a short.
Sharon Maymon, my screenwriter came up with the idea of the ending. The idea was punishment. We joined forces and we wrote it in a weekend. My wife Jaime Ray Newman who is kick ass producer decided to bring it to the world. We had this amazing crew.
We shot the film two hours away from LA in this no-mans land. I knew that once we did the short, it would help with the feature and that’s exactly what happened.
At what stage during production did Trump get elected and then Charlottesville?
We had just finished shooting when he got elected. Charlottesville happened during the edit and suddenly the backyard of America became the front yard of America and there aren’t just ten people in Ohio who are racists.
Once we finished the short, we sent it to Oren Liebermann who is a filmmaker and producer. He really reacted to it. Trudie Styler saw it too. She embraced us and was in. Once they saw the short, all the other actors saw it and everyone else came on board and then Skin the feature happened. It’s magical. Once you start something, magic happens, it’s like lighting a match.
Daryle Lamont Jenkins is an activist and he told me, “Every American film shows the African-American getting beaten up or shot at. No one shows the retaliation.” He was the one who said that we should show the retaliation. He was the one who wanted to have the ending happen.
He gave us the greenlight to do that ending. It’s a collective of amazing people.
Jackson is superb. Your opening is the cycle happening. The clean slate is tainted from the parent and that the child is going to learn from his surroundings.
I did a lot of research before I did Skin. I saw a documentary about a racist dad who took his son and shaped him and made his son look like him. He shaved his son’s head. You could see how the son was slowly becoming like his father.
It’s true about every extremist movement. Those kids become the image of their parent and so that was important for me to show that this young innocent kid inhaled his father’s ideas and became a spitting image of his father.
We start that scene of the hand carving the innocent boy to become like his father.
It’s so haunting and that ending is just as striking.
That’s my message. I have a 4-month-old baby girl. It was a long road. I was thinking about what world am I bringing her into. It’s all about education and educating our kids. The war kids are brainwashed. That was my goal in the short that what we teach our kids ends up biting us in the ass.
In Hebrew, there’s a saying. “A father ate bad fruits and their kid’s teeth will be rotten.”
That’s the film’s message at the end of the day.