A secret romance: the director who is confronting Nazis, race and bigotry

Amma Asante’s new movie follows the story of a biracial girl during the Third Reich. How much of it reflects the film-maker’s fears of where we are heading now?

Amma Asante’s new film, Where Hands Touch, tells the story of a forgotten piece of history – the fate of black victims of the Holocaust. The director saw a picture online – a school photograph taken in Nazi Germany of girls aged 13 or so; a biracial girl looks out from the front row, her eye caught by something off camera. Nothing about the image made any sense to Asante. “She is a little girl of colour. She’s surrounded by what Hitler called Aryan girls, and it’s 1943. I wondered if she was still alive. Then, when I started to research, I realised all my assumptions were wrong.”

Up to 25,000 black people lived in Nazi Germany. Where Hands Touch is a fictional story about a 16-year-old biracial girl, Leyna (Amandla Stenberg), who lives with her white German mother and little brother in the Rhine valley; her Senegalese dad isn’t around. The film begins with Leyna hiding from the Gestapo, who have orders for her sterilisation. The family moves to Berlin, where Leyna begins a secret romance with Lutz (George MacKay), the son of a high-ranking Nazi officer, played by Christopher Eccleston. (It’s one of those films where English-speaking actors talk distractingly with foreign accents.)

Asante had assumed that being a person of colour in 1940s German would inevitably mean the worst: “Given what Hitler decided he was going to do to the Jews, what on earth must have he decided he was going to do with black people?” But the history she discovered was more complicated. When the Nazis made plans to exterminate every Jew on German soil, no official arrangement was put in place for people of colour. “There was a reason for that,” Asante explains.

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