Native American Film Series: “Skins”
We see it every day on the reservation… good men and women caught in bad situations. Collectively, they carry a wound so deep and so old that no one individual can cope with it alone. A long history of trauma can be like that. Good sons and daughters can become neglectful fathers and mothers in this kind of scenario. All it takes is the right combination of anger, sadness, drugs and alcohol. It’s hard not feeling helpless. It’s hard not feeling hopeless. It’s hard not feeling human.
Perhaps no film sums up this experience of contemporary reservation life better than Skins (2002). Based on the Adrian C. Louis novel of the same name, Skins is a sobering look by Chris Eyre at life on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.
For brothers Mogie and Rudy Yellow Lodge, alcohol has built and destroyed many things in their lives, but their connection goes beyond this. Mogie and Rudy are intricately bound by the things all Lakota share. These things could be called themes, and in Skins you see the weight of these themes… they are living things… characters that inevitably influence real life for Mogie and Rudy.
If you’ve ever spent any time in the Black Hills of South Dakota, then you know what I’m talking about. Just by looking and listening you sense the power, but you will never fully understand it. And, like the people who inhabited this land before the now dominant culture, the land itself carries the same injustices. A sacred place the Lakota call “the heart of everything that is,” the Black Hills have been mined for profit and forever altered by the sculpting of Mount Rushmore.
In the shadow of their oppressors, the Lakota people must live. Fortunately, they have a powerful tool to help them, spirituality.In the wake of Rudy’s life as a tribal police officer and brother of alcoholic Mogie, spirituality brings balance to his turmoil. Yet change doesn’t come without its challenges. Rudy’s own choices will come into play and, as the medicine man in the film tells Rudy, “Human beings don’t control anything, spirits do.”Featuring cast and crew from Smoke Signals and Imprint, Skins is as close to experiencing life on Pine Ridge that any outsider can get, while also doing justice to the people and culture it represents.