Amandla Stenberg’s latest project hasn’t hit theaters yet, and it’s already stirring up a fair amount of controversy. The film Where Hands Touch, for which Stenberg had to shave her head, is an interracial love story set in Nazi Germany. Stenberg plays Lenya, a 16-year-old biracial German who is sent to a concentration camp as her boyfriend, 17-year-old Lutz, serves as a member of the Hitler Youth despite his misgivings.
Understandably, this isn’t exactly going over well. As outcry grew the film’s writer and director Amma Asante, released a statement to Indiewire explaining her thought process behind the film.
“This week, a First Look image of the film I have made starring Amandla Stenberg was released, and it revealed all sorts of concerns, questions and worries with fears on what this film will be about. My passion has been to shine a light on the existence of the children of colour who were born and raised under Hitler. These children were also persecuted and my wish has been to explore how Black and Bi-racial identity was perceived and experienced under Nazi facist rule. The young girl’s experience in ‘Where Hands Touch,’ sits alongside 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 its own people and those of other countries.
Leyna’s story (Amandla Stenberg) is told 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 all have 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.”
Biraciality and interracial relationships are a theme of Asante’s work. She directed Belle, the critically acclaimed film loosely based on the life of a mixed-race daughter of a slave woman and a British naval officer who lived in 18th century England. Her film A United Kingdom, is about a Botswanan prince who marries a white English office worker in 1948.
Donald Trump’s election has brought Nazism, a belief system thought to be on the decline in America, back to the forefront with his open embrace of Neo-Nazis and other racial hardliners. So fans are understandably jitterish about this film bringing visibility to Nazism and romanticizing forbidden love. Black women are often sent the message, sublty or overtly, that interracial marriage is the cultural path forward to racial unity and understanding. And while the United States is undoubtedly, naturally becoming a more mixed society, casting interracial relationships as a panacea overlooks the fact that there still can be real racial tensions in those unions.
In a strongly worded Tumblr post Stenberg addressed critics of her film, saying that she is “trying to do the work”
“Oversimplifying, assuming, and jumping to conclusions with little to no actual basis or information is doing y’all no favors. Righteous problematic labeling contributes nothing to the world and stifles conversations instead of promoting dialogue. How are we supposed to perpetuate change and defend identity – especially when it is needed so badly in today’s political climate – if we are more concerned with declaring our judgements of others in order to affirm our own righteousness? If we are forming our opinions off of rumor, heresay, and perhaps most alarmingly, agreeing with others just to agree and feel a false sense of virtue and satisfaction?
In my eyes, the fundamental values of activism are individual thought and in depth analysis. It strikes me as ironic that those who supposedly lead their lives with these values in their hearts are the same to blindly follow like sheep and make hollow preemptive conclusions.
Y’all, I’m out here trying to do the work. I’m not your target. The world is much larger than this bubble. If you jump to conclusions and make generalizations about others out of fear, you are doing the same thing as the people you claim to morally oppose.”
Ladies, what are your thoughts?