9:35 am EDT, September 3, 2018

‘Where Hands Touch,’ controversial film starring Amandla Stenberg, releases first trailer

Where Hands Touch, a new film from Amma Asante, starring Amandla Stenberg, has garnered quite a bit of controversy, and the first trailer isn’t really helping.

Amma Asante is a filmmaker and writer noted for her directorial work on films like A United Kingdom and Belle, but she’s been very open about calling her upcoming film, Where Hands Touch, her passion project. The movie, which Asante wrote and directed, focuses on people of color during WWII, often referred to as “Rhineland Bastards.” Though these people born of Afro-German heritage experienced many horrors at the hands of the Nazis, their story isn’t one that is often told.

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Related: Where Hands Touch: A Holocaust love story sparks controversy, but is it in good hands?

Where Hands Touch is a historical fiction film that seeks to shine a light on the people of color who fought to survive during the Holocaust. However, after seeing the first trailer, some very serious questions have arisen from moviegoers.

While a brief synopsis of the film focuses on Leyna’s (Stenberg) plight for survival in Nazi Germany in 1944, the trailer makes the heart of the movie center around Leyna’s romance with Lutz. Lutz is a young man in the Hitler Youth (something Asante clarifies was compulsory since 1936) who begins to challenge the Nazi system upon his romance with Leyna.

Despite Asante portraying Lutz as a young man forced into the Nazi regime, the narrative of “the good Nazi” or a romance that focuses on a young woman who is targeted by Nazis — the narrative most commonly features a Jewish woman, like 2016’s The Exception — falling for a Nazi soldier isn’t anything new. However, it’s a narrative many deem harmful, especially in today’s political climate.

In a time where there are Nazis holding rallies with their rhetoric is being whitewashed under the more palatable (though still as dangerous) moniker of “white nationalism,” is now really the time to show how a love story that, in essence, humanizes a Nazi? Asante has argued on her Instagram that this film isn’t meant to humanize Nazis or make them sympathetic characters, rather, her film intends to highlight the plight of a group targeted by Nazis whose story has not yet been told, and to show how a nation can slowly walk itself into the horrific and murderous state of Nazi Germany.

The trailer certainly doesn’t seem to give off those vibes of a stark social commentary, but really feels more like a young adult romances set in one of the darkest periods of history. Amandla Stenberg is an actor who we’ve grown to trust with her take on representation and racial injustice in Hollywood and society at large, as has filmmaker Amma Asante, so we really want to trust their judgement. Hopefully Where Hands Touch is the thoughtful, poignant take on oppression that Asante promises it will be, and this romance-heavy trailer is just the result of bad marketing.

Still, this trailer has us feeling incredibly uncomfortable, even in the hands of Asante and Stenberg. Where Hands Touch premieres in theaters everywhere on September 14.

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