It’s obvious that the film industry in the UK is not set up for black women to win. If you’re so bold as to say otherwise, please respond below with your list of prominent black female directors in the UK and I’ll stand corrected. I’ll wait….
With A Way of Life (2004), Belle (2013) and A United Kingdom (2017) under her belt, you could say that BAFTA Award winning director Amma Asante is indeed winning, and with her latest offering Where Hands Touch coming just two years after her last film, this could even be described as a streak. Why then does Asante “think about leaving the industry every day”? The absence of black female directors isn’t due to a lack of talent or interested parties, it’s as a result of, as Asante says “financiers not understanding what it is to be black and female” and insolence of the black female gaze.
To succeed where the odds are stacked against her reflects what Asante describes as one of the most important qualities to become successful – tenacity.
“Someone with a handful of talent and whole heap of tenacity will get further than someone with a whole heap of talent and no tenacity.”
Asante has both in abundance and the authenticity which guides her, adds further kudos to this director; case in point, Asante describes how she was only willing to be attached to the A United Kingdom project if the film set in Botswana, had African women speaking in it, a huge flaw/oversight/insult with the project before it was in her hands. This flaw is what both propels and perturbs Asante, as contrary to her fleeting feeling that she could leave the business every day, she also implores that as a result of the hurdles “we challenge boundaries more”, we being an audience of largely black female creatives at the Black Femme Film exclusive screening and Q & A of Where Hands Touch.
I got to ask Asante what she would like to see change in the film industry that would make her experience less problematic, her answer was to omit fear and encourage understanding. Understanding that the black female gaze is just as worthy as any other gaze, with stories that are just as incredible, inspiring, ordinary and important. As Asante put it “the small slither that is open to us, would be opened wider” with more understanding and less fear.
This reflexion perhaps makes clear why Asante is so brilliant at telling stories that highlight prejudice and tolerance, often from the perspective of black and biracial women because as she says
“I want to put the I am [here] into an experience on screen”
The I am at the centre of Asante’s latest film is Leyna, played by the brilliant Amandla Stenburg (The Hate U Give, 2018) (The Hunger Games, 2102). On paper a film that tells the story of a biracial teenager, falling in love with a young Nazi at the height of the Nazi occupation shouldn’t work, too implausible right? But Where Hands Touch, not only works, but wows. For the first time, the story of how black and biracial Germans faired in the Second World War in a Germany surrounded by an emerging Aryan race, becomes the story you never knew you needed to know.
For Asante, it was the film she had been told for over 10 years was too big for her, and yet here it sits in all of it’s tear jerking, assumption ass kicking glory. The story is beautifully crafted with George MacKay as Lutz, the Nazi Youth who falls for Leyna at its centre; their love story though based in bygone times will challenge perceptions and prejudices many hold on to, today. Moreover the impact that war had on black and biracial people although touched on in films such as Red Tails (2012), is predominantly told through the ever satisfied male gaze – black and biracial women never get a look in. However, as the closing credits demonstrated through real life depictions of these women and girls, their experience, much like the neglected stories of many women of colour today are real and valid and important and Amma Asante does a sterling job in ensuring that these women remain front and centre, both in this film and in future works.
Where hands touch is in the cinema now.