A trailer for a new WW-II era love story featuring Amandla Stenberg has us collectively scratching our heads.
Where Hands Touch centers on Stenberg, who plays a mixed-race Afro-German during Nazi Germany. That bit sounds compelling enough, but let’s continue reading the official synopsis of the film (h/t The Playlist), shall we?
WHERE HANDS TOUCH is a coming of age story set in the most brutal of times: Germany, 1944. Leyna (Amandla Stenberg), the 15-year old daughter of a white German mother (Abbie Cornish) and a black African father, meets Lutz (George MacKay), a compassionate member of the Hitler Youth whose father (Christopher Eccleston) is a prominent Nazi soldier, and they form an unlikely connection in this quickly changing world.
As Leyna’s mother strives to protect her from the horrors that she could face as a mixed-race German citizen, Leyna is forced to forge her own path as the war goes on and the Nazi’s increase their atrocities over the Jews and all dissidents. Can she find an ally in Lutz, himself battling a fate laid out before him that he is hesitant to embrace?
Ooof. Is someone trying to make Loving: But Make it Nazi happen? If you watch the trailer, the answer appears to be “Absolutely. Yes. What’s the problem?”
Interestingly, the film is helmed by a black female director, Amma Asante (Belle, A United Kingdom). According to a tweet Asante posted on Monday morning, she began writing the film more than 10 years ago “after discovering the existence of complex lives for children of color in WW II Germany.”
Afro-Germans, of course, were also persecuted by the Nazis: subjected to the Third Reich’s Nuremberg Laws, which banned marriages and sexual relationships between Aryans and non-Aryans and established who was entitled to Reich citizenship. Nazis also sterilized hundreds of Afro-German children.
It’s certainly worthwhile to tell the stories of Afro-Germans, as well as of the Romani and the Slavs, who were also targeted for so-called “ethnic cleansing.” Doing so would give us a fuller understanding of the Holocaust and of the Nazis themselves, whose obsession with racial and ethnic purity wasn’t just a quirk of a wider political belief: it was the fulcrum of it.
Which is what makes this trailer so disturbing. It appears that Leyna and Lutz’s attraction/friendship/romance/whatever has some redemptive value for both people—that Lutz’s romantic attraction to a black girl will complicate a Nazism he just falls into on his account of his father. Given his position—as a white Aryan and as a Nazi—this also puts Lutz in a position to save Leyna should harm come her way.
If this is the direction the movie goes in, it’s a disturbing one, implying that romantic love can be a salve for a worldview whose very foundation is the destructive lie of a “master race.” It would also be tired and played out: making a potential romantic hero out of a literal Nazi, for one, and giving Stenberg’s Leyna the onus of putting a white racist in touch with his humanity (a role black women are still frequently called upon to perform in real life, without any irony or shame).
It’s possible the movie accomplishes something the trailer doesn’t—though from what we see here, I’m not optimistic. And surely, the backlash against the film, should anyone go see it on Sept. 14th when it opens in limited release, will include critiques that it humanizes Nazis.
But the issue is probably less about humanizing Nazis. They were fundamentally human—doctors, nurses, teachers and devout Christians—which is part of what makes what they accomplished so horrifying. It’s about how much the film, by positing romantic love as a cure to Nazism, and by making a black girl the key to a white racists’ humanity, yet again, dehumanizes everyone else.