One thing readers might not be aware of is that the Nerdy POC team are all friends, we are constantly sharing our views on everything from Pizza and Pineapples, eye candy and deconstructing white supremacist ideals. We also have friendly debates on almost every piece of content that might grace the site, one of which is Amma Asante’s newest film ‘Where Hands Touch’.
We all had very mixed feelings about the piece and we took the time to collectively unpack everything that was wrong with the premise of the film and the disturbing overarching themes prevalent in Asante’s work.
‘Where Hands Touch’ is described as a tale in which the ghastly Holocaust serves as the backdrop to the uncanny love story of, Amandla Sternberg playing the protagonist Leyna, who is of mixed-race heritage and George MacKay, who plays Lutz a member of the Hitler Youth, the pair fall “helplessly in love” and try to weather the unbearable social climate of 1930’s Nazi Germany.
The first issue is that Holocaust serves as a backdrop to a story that amplifies the thoughts, feelings, and experiences of a Nazi. No xenophobic zealot deserves compassion or a tale with softening effects. I don’t seem to understand how a human being with even the most basic grasp of world history could fail to appreciate this? Many people defended the film and the Hitler Youth (crazy right? 2017 man) by arguing that many Aryan boys were forced to join the association. While this is true in part, many of these crusaders fail to omit the fact that many of these Aryan boys (many of whom went on to populate America, the UK, Africa and possibly every other continent on the globe) maintained these sentiments which they once knew to be toxic — and passed them down from generation to generation. It’s laughable that this is what the industry has come to — that a narrative as weak and predictable as this could be given any audience is astounding. In truth, the laughter stops when we piece the love story together with the contextual backdrop crafted. We are supposed to sympathize with a Nazi during the Holocaust and we are expected to develop a special bond with a mixed-race girl who sees past the blood on his hands, the emblems on his uniforms and the philosophy of the association he represents to reveal … I don’t know? A human being with no moral code or shred of compassionate fibers? Anyone else feeling connected yet?
The second issue I have is not so much with the film but with the filmmaker. One thing that makes a feminist, is the ability to respect another woman’s success and her journey without making her politics yours. It’s safe to say that I respect Amma Asante for becoming a gatekeeper in an industry that arguably dictates society’s course. It is, however, for this same reason that I am left with a sour taste in my mouth after consuming her work. It seems that Asante believes interracial pairings to be Holy Water strong enough to atone for even the gravest of sins. Her narratives tend to herald mixed-race couples as exceptions that, dare I say, break the rule. I find this again, laughable and deprecating to people of mixed heritage. There is no way that I — a fully Nigerian woman can speak on behalf of a mixed-race woman. This rings true in Asante’s case, her fixation with women of mixed heritage is troubling. Asante being full-blooded Ghanaian cannot align her experiences with a woman of mixed heritage, and so any ideas she holds would either be informed by delusion, prejudice, personal engagement or hearsay. Asante’s work seems to favor the former. Her work seems to propose that a mixed-race child or interracial relationship is the stuff of legend. National Geographic and several other respectable scientific journals have published research proving that our future favors monoculture. Mixed-race people deserve whole, edifying narratives, we don’t need to see a girl fall for a Nazi to sympathize with her and we don’t need to downplay the Holocaust to get to grips with the experiences of Afro-Germans in Nazi Germany.
As a gatekeeper, you have such unique privilege and immense duty. Duty to open up the gates of your industry to those who are so truly deserving but far too often downtrodden. A duty to craft fresh and inspiring work. The duty to be honest. A duty to respect the intelligence of your audience. The duty to critique the social climate of the world — no matter how hot and unbearable it might be. The duty to be steadfast in ensuring that every piece edifies, uplifts and starts an essential discourse. Asante seemingly fails to uphold this duty in this piece. You have the honor of accessing a global audience — and you choose to do this? When you occupy a position of incredible power, and you are opportune to utilize and access resources you have a duty to do what so many of us cannot do. I don’t see that reflected in this film.
Change can never materialize if we choose to forgo radicalism. Oppressive systems only grow stronger when we subscribe to fallacy. As a people, we get nowhere when we favor lies and pathetic fantasy over reality. The world won’t be cured of hate, corruption, death and pain if mixed-girls hold hands with Nazi’s; if we continue to debate about the rights of white supremacists; when we shy away from conversations about the intricate operation of racism and how it manifests differently depending on the deepness of your hue; if we give hate a platform; or when black men marry white women.
My final gripe is with stans of Stenberg. It is important to remember and accept that they (being Stenberg) are only 18. When they first burst onto the scene, Stenberg was labeled the poster child for blackness and expected to go up in arms against all forms of oppression. They — being of mixed heritage slowly but surely began to speak on behalf of and arguably over darker skinned black women. Many of us were guilty of celebrating the bare minimum — Stenberg, like many others, often stated the obvious about racism, misogynoir and cultural appropriation — it wasn’t fresh phenomena, they shared sentiments that so many of us had expressed, but it was palatable and safe for the masses because the vessel was not as abrasive.
Nothing Stenberg said in any Teen Vogue clip, Dazed interview, Tweet or Tumblr Post was mind boggling to darker skinned/commonly shunned black people — but too many of us turned them into a citadel of knowledge on the black experience, which for so many reasons was harmful. Those who championed Stenberg forgot at some point that they (Stenberg) are made of plasma, blood cells, and water. Just like the rest of us — they were bound to make mistakes. And just like the rest of us, Stenberg is still on a journey of self-discovery. When Stenberg made all these statements in support of marginalized groups Stenberg was literally a child! So if you expected them to have maintained this performative consciousness then you have yourself to blame. Stop relying on other people to be your personal Encyclopaedia — google doesn’t bite and she’s free! Stop burdening people with the labor of activism, the fight is not for one. You cannot expect so much of a teenager and expect nothing of yourself. With that being said, Stenberg’s response to backlash cannot be excused and will be discussed later on in this essay.
I’ve noticed that we live in a time of the uninformed-guru, people retweet and share articles they have not even read in the hopes of crafting some sort of illusion of themselves online, people blindly support people because of one bland statement that favors a view they might hold. Stenberg, while flippant, truly owes no one an apology for not fitting your ‘woke’ fantasy — you failed yourself for not being the person you so desperately wanted them to be. This is dangerous and it spells doom for us if we hope to turn things around, we see how this culture of band waggon hopping and this insatiable desire to be seen revolting against anything has affected global politics and has even taken a deathly grip on us at the grassroots. Challenge yourself, before you cheer someone on for something founded and lackluster ask yourself if their politics truly mirrors yours — or are you standing just for kicks? Does the preservation of your curated image and ego weigh more than the truth?
This is just food for thought.
To close, I would like to address Stenberg’s pseudo-intellectual attempt at defending the indefensible. Sometimes you bite the bullet, and that’s okay. Deflecting with a display of flowery language discounts valid concerns of people who give so much of themselves to make you who you are. It’s quite frankly immature and unbecoming, and as someone who has so many thoughts on minority experiences, it is truly quite disappointing that you don’t think issues people have with this film to be any of your concern. Take ownership of your fault if you truly wish to grow — this is a message to everyone who is a party to this film.
Ego is like sand, it’s foundation that can be challenged oh so easily.
Author: Tara Nafisa
Editor: Han Angus