Amandla Stenberg’s forthcoming film Where Hands Touch hasn’t even been released yet, and it’s already getting a lot of attention … for better or worse.
Set during the Holocaust, the romantic period piece from filmmaker Amma Asante revolves around the budding romance between two German teenagers: Leyna (Stenberg), a biracial young woman coming of age, and Lutz (George MacKay), a member of the Hitler Youth.
A first-look image from the film was met with backlash across multiple social media platforms, with many accusing Asante of romanticizing Nazis and diminishing the sufferings of World War II.
In response, Asante went on Instagram to defend her project, asserting, “This film does not romanticize Nazis in any way.” The writer-director explained that she wants to bring awareness to the history of “Rhineland bastards,” the German children of color who lived under Hitler’s regime.
UPDATE: So many of you have had questions and concerns about this First Look image so I want to assure you that this film does not romanticize Nazis in any way. My full quote with the image clarifies that my passion has been to shine a light on the existence of the children of color who were born and raised under Hitler. These children were also persecuted and my wish has been to explore how black and bi-racial German identity was perceived and experienced under Nazi fascist rule. This girl’s experience sits along side the Jewish experience and the experience of others who were persecuted. It looks at how Germany became Nazi Germany and slept walked itself into a disgusting and murderous state that resulted in it killing it’s own people and those of other countries. Leyna’s story (Amandla Stenberg) sits in this sad and terrifying context. My reasons for making this film sit around my concerns of the current climate but also a continued and growing intolerance of racial and religious difference that we have all sensed for many years and which is becoming even worse now. As a filmmaker my wish is to center on bringing attention to this through my work. Amandla and i teamed together to shine a light on the hatred that Nazi Germany visited on Europe and to make a film that might contribute to the dialogue of how we fight this horrific racial and religious ignorance today along with the intolerances visited on the many other marginalized groups and intersections. With only a few lines and one image ever offered to a filmmaker to comment on a First Look image release, and with the lead character in this film embarking on such a large rites of passage story, it’s difficult to summarize all the things one might want to about a film in a brief article. Amandla’s role in this film brings attention to an as yet untold story in the arena of drama cinema, to the existence of the other ‘others’ who suffered during the holocaust. This does not mean that the Jewish experience is not also key to our story. It is. I hope that this at least clarifies some of your concerns. I have all the…(cont’d in following comment)
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When one looks at her career as a whole, it’s easier to understand where Asante is coming from. Two of Asante’s earlier historical dramas, Belle (2013) and A United Kingdom (2016), focus on interracial relationships that flourish in the face of persecution and hate.
“I think something that [Asante] is the most fascinated by and thinks is the most profound is the intersection of identity and how it’s changed by our environments and our governments and by our peers and our families,” Stenberg told Variety. “That was [Asante’s] intention with Where Hands Touch.”
Like Asante, Stenberg was interested in sharing the history of the Rhineland bastards because, as she explains, “We lack a range of the experience of black people throughout history, let alone a story about someone who is biracial.”
“People don’t really know that biracial children existed then,” Stenberg continues. “These biracial children where the children of French soldiers and German women who had fallen in love during World War I.”
“I think it’s challenging for people to conceive of a story about the Holocaust that is not centered around the Jewish experience, but the experience of someone else,” Stenberg says. “But I think what the movie does really beautifully is it demonstrates what happens with these tricky intersections of identity and how we still continue to be human and love and be loved, despite that.”
People have every right to be skeptical—this film is a love story set during the Holocaust. But we’ll just have to wait to see how Asante handles the controversial topic before we jump to any conclusions about a film we haven’t yet seen.
The film will premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on Sept. 9 before being released on Sept. 14 by Vertical Entertainment.