When news got out that Amma Asante’s newest film was going to be about a biracial girl growing up in Hitler’s Germany who falls in love with a member of the Hitler Youth, the backlash was immediate. And without doubt, it’s certainly a story that requires the utmost care to ensure that it can’t be twisted into something that ends up glorifying or romanticizing Nazis (especially in today’s political climate, where white supremacists are particularly emboldened). Asante’s film is thoughtful and deserves praise for shining light on the so-called bastards of the Rhineland, the biracial children of Germans and people of African descent, who are so often left out of the World War II and Holocaust narratives. Unfortunately, the choice to make this story a romance does have some unpleasant implications, especially considering the fact that it deals with themes of inaction and complacency.
Leyna is a young girl growing up in Germany and, despite having brought up as a German, is increasingly aware of her status as an outsider. Until the age of 16, she had never even seen another person who looked like her. And while the Nazis taking power and placing restrictions on everyone who was not a healthy, able-bodied Aryan, her world is getting smaller and more rigid right at the point in her life when it is supposed to be expanding.
Her family does their best to get by. They sometimes seem to exist rather than live, so eager are they to avoid drawing attention to themselves.