Writer and director Amma Asante is continuing her track record of producing historical, interracial romances with her upcoming release, “Where Hands Touch.” The movie, which will premiere on Sept. 14, stars actors Amandla Stenberg and George MacKay as the leading couple. While some people greeted the trailer with excitement, there has also been a huge amount of backlash over the movie’s premise.

Stenberg plays a biracial black girl named Leyna living in Nazi Germany. From the trailer, it is clear to see that she sticks out like a sore thumb amongst her peers; however, this is not necessarily a bad thing as it brings her to the attention of Lutz (MacKay’s character), a young man who is being groomed by his Nazi father to follow in his xenophobic footsteps.

Many believe “Where Hands Touch” to be highly problematic because they think it will portray Nazis as sympathetic people, rather than the cold and heartless people that they often were. People also fear that the movie is romanticizing a period in history that was anything but for many people, Jewish or otherwise.

Other critics have turned their attention to the actors. Stenberg’s casting has been met with distaste by some individuals who claim that she’s been in too many movies this year and that there are other black girls who could have been casted. Usually, I’d agree with this sentiment, but in this case, I feel her casting is appropriate. The character of Leyna is a biracial, black girl, as is Stenberg. And yes, Stenberg is one of the most popular actresses of this group out right now, which means her casting gives the movie a bit more mainstream appeal, but I can’t blame those behind the movie for that.

While I can understand why some are upset with the film, I’ve always been a big believer in giving something a chance before I completely turn my back on it. Not to mention, the story is based on true events, making it less likely to be a sappy, romanticized affair. In the hands of another director, I may have been more skeptical of the movie’s potential for success, but being very familiar with Asante’s other film “Belle” gives me high hopes for “Where Hands Touch.”

Where Hands Touch
Critics are arguing that Stenberg’s role should have been given to someone else for the sake of giving other black actresses opportunities to shine. (Image via EW)

“Belle,” like its director’s upcoming film, portrays an interracial romance between a biracial black woman and a white man in a time when relationships like those were few and far between and faced much opposition. But in that case, it was during times of slavery, rather than the Nazi regime.

Asante gave the romance time to shine in “Belle” while acknowledging the difficulties of the era. She really fleshed out the historical aspect of the story in such a way that it did not feel like a conveniently tragic backdrop for a love story. I have high hopes that this same approach will be applied to “Where Hands Touch.”

It would be great to see the movie adequately portray the brutalities of Nazis and not shy away from them in favor of romance. Rather, I’d like for them to tie into the central conflict of the romance, giving the movie a bit more substance in the process. In fact, I’d prefer that the film not have a happy ending. Given the circumstances of the characters, an upbeat, carefree closing scene could come off as unrealistic and make the movie feel cheaper as a result.

Through her filmmaking, Asante has opportunity to teach a wider audience a thing or two about modern history. I truly do not know much about how black people were treated in Nazi-Germany, but I have always been interested in learning about the black experience in other parts of the world. Both “Belle” and “Where Hands Touch” have captured my interest as not only are they are based on true stories, they also depict parts of black history that you really do not hear much about.

However, despite my anticipation, there are a few aspects of the film that I am cautious about. In the trailer, it looks as though Lutz is on his way to becoming a Nazi soldier (if he’s not one already). What does Leyna have to say about this? Does it put a strain on their relationship? Leyna should not be complacent about his participation in Nazi activities for obvious reasons.

This tension should be a key component of their struggles as a couple and is not something to be taken lightly or brushed aside because love conquers all or the like. Just as Lutz should undergo some form of heavy internal conflict between not wanting to defy his father and not wanting to be a Nazi, so too should Leyna be conflicted about being involved with a Nazi (people whose entire foundation is based on discrimination), particularly as a woman of color.

Where Hands Touch
Hopefully, Asante shows Leyna and Lutz’s characters experiencing the struggles that come with a relationship in such a tempestuous context. (Image via The Wrap).

Reviews for “Where Hands Touch” are beginning to pop up online, as the film has had screenings at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), and reception has been mixed overall. Some might take this as a bad sign, but I don’t. The movie was polarizing before anyone had even seen it, so I expected no less.

In less than a week “Where Hands Touch” will be released, and everyone can see for themselves whether or not the hype and criticism are justified.

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Danielle Richardson

Florida State University

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