With his muscular frame, shaved head and goatee, actor Edward Nortons character Derek Vinyard from the movie AMERICAN HISTORY X projects a steady aura of menace. But what really adds to that image is the variety of tattoos on his upper body. The work is all done in black and white, and was designed along the lines of body art worn by present-day white supremacist skinheads. In reality, if you look at the skin art worn by those involved in neo-Nazi groups or the white supremacy movement, you will see very similar artwork.
Each bicep sports a barbed wire armband. Several tattoos are of icons utilized by the Nazis in Germany during World War II. An eagle carrying a swastika is on Vineyards right upper arm. His lower forearm has an iron cross tattooed on it and the words white power. The boldest and largest of his tattoos is a black swastika tattooed on the left side of his chest. This tattoo is dark enough it shows through the white undershirt that Norton is wearing in some scenes.
On Vinyards back, tattooed between his shoulder blades are the initials D.O.C. These stand for Disciples of Christ, the fictional Aryan white supremacy group that Derek runs with in the movie. This acronym is included in the Anti-Defamation Leagues online database of symbols worn by extremist groups as some real-life skinheads have chosen to copy this emblem from the movie. Additionally each of Vinyards shoulder blades bears a sizable portrait of a snarling dog, with the images looking much like pit bulls.
Credits for the movie list a variety of makeup artists: John E. Jackson and Christina Smith are listed as supervising key makeup, Heather Fraker is listed as the makeup artist and Gina Rylander is credited as the body makeup artist. No credits are listed specifically for the tattoo design work.
After his release from prison, Derek Vinyard has grown back his hair and dresses to hide his tattoos. His time in prison has made him change his mind but the visible reminders of his previous life path are still etched in his skin. In reality, many people who make similar life decisions also struggle with the perception of their tattoos and their new life choices.