Amma Asante made it four for four with her latest release, having four consecutive releases in the official TIFF lineup. Continuing the director’s interest in historical matters, Where Hands Touch tells the story of Leyna, a mixed-race girl coming of age during the Second World War. After the relatively gentle period stylings of Belle and A United Kingdom, Asante’s film came as something of a shock, since it pulls no punches in its depiction of Hitler’s Germany—a topic the director was keen to address when she came by the Deadline studio with stars Amandla Sternberg, George MacKay and Abbie Cornish.
The project, she said, was borne out of curiosity. “It was the wish to know a little bit more about the history of people like me,” she said. “People who are of African descent, but born and raised in Europe. I realized I knew more about African-American history than I did my own, and that kind of put me in a slightly lost place, in a way. So I started to [ask], who could I have been? Who might I have been sometime back in history as a person of color? And I discovered a generation of biracial children that were born between the wars. They were the children of white so-called Aryan mothers and black African soldiers from French colonies who fought in World War I and went into Germany as part of the occupation after the war.”
“My immediate assumption,” she continued, “was that these children must have led as horrific lives, if not more, as the Jewish population who were targeted by Hitler. But as soon as I started my research, all of my assumptions were being smashed to pieces. And from that came the kind of drive and the will—I was just compelled to tell a story that could explore the scope of humanity through the eyes of a black child, or a biracial child, because we just don’t get that on screen very often.”
Stenberg, the film’s star, explained her role in the film, as a young woman trying to find her place in a world turned upside-down. “I play Leyna Schlegel,” she said, “and she’s a biracial child growing up underneath Hitler’s rule. She’s navigating a world that she doesn’t belong in, and attempting to cling on to any sense of belonging, but she learns how the world really works when she’s confronted with the implications of the Nazi regime.”
Hear more from Asante and the cast of Where Hands Touch by clicking the video above.