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Director's statement

why this, why now, why me

In the fall of 2018, Big Teeth Productions was approached to bid on a project for GHD, the hair care products manufacturer in England, through the London Ad Agency Southpaw. The project revolved around David Allen, a Chicago tattoo artist renowned for his incredible mastectomy tattoos, who was designing a hair straightener with proceeds supporting breast cancer research. I poured all my passion and energy into winning that job, and soon, I was working with David and two incredible breast cancer survivors, Grace and Molly—Grace being the feature of the project.

 

We filmed Molly during her “tattoo day.” Although she wasn’t interviewed for the film, we spent countless hours communicating via FaceTime, email, and phone. On that day, I sat by her side as David tattooed her, getting to know her on a deeper level than just as a director and their subject. We became friends. As a woman in her 30s who had survived breast cancer, Molly was strong and powerful. What struck me immediately was that she, like me, was Jewish. There she was, covering her entire chest with flower tattoos, despite Leviticus 19:28 stating: “You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor tattoo any marks on you: I am the Lord.” Historically, Jews have interpreted this to mean that tattoos are wrong.

 

Growing up in a conservative Jewish family, I was told I wouldn’t be buried in a Jewish cemetery. My grandparents were among the millions of Jews tattooed during the Holocaust. When I met Molly, I had to know: Did she struggle with this? Or were her other struggles much bigger than religious judgment? What did her parents think? What would Jewish men she wanted to date think? And did it even matter if being tattooed made her feel confident in her own skin?

 

This film initially aimed to explore Jews and tattoos. However, the more I researched and talked to people, the more I realized I didn’t want to focus solely on biblical interpretation. While understanding the history of tattooing and various rabbinical positions was important, the story I needed to tell was about people who chose to see beyond existing biases and found something beautiful about their bodies that they had lost. Through this process, I discovered that tattoo biases exist not only in Judaism but also in many other religions, communities, and households.

 

After the GHD project, I started to see all tattoos differently. I wanted to know everyone’s stories. While the story of mastectomy tattoos has gained attention over the years, I became curious about other scars people cover with tattoos. What about internal scars that prevent people from feeling comfortable and safe in their skin? Can a tattoo help them love their bodies?

 

I am a storyteller who cares deeply about my subjects and their authentic journeys. This is precisely what I seek to capture in UnScarred.

- Elise Jaffe, Director

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