Amma Asante (director)
2h 2mins (length)
29 March 2019 (released)
29 March 2019
The third film by British female director Amma Asante takes us to WW2 in the height of Hitler’s power. Assante has delved into an already busy subgenre of film, and told a story based on historical accounts, witnessed through the point of view of a young mixed-race girl, Leyna (Played by rising star Amandla Steinberg). A refreshing concept to take a story told frequently, and yet give the audience a niche character to follow. The film begins with Steinberg's character taking on the relatable trials of a young teen, trying to find her place amongst peers. Now throw in the fact she is daughter of an Arian mother and African father; the trials increase tenfold. Known as ‘Germany’s shame’ by the Nazis, children born like Leyna were never considered full citizens and therefore had to be extremely careful how they lived their lives. Threats of sterilisation, imprisonment and murder to name a few, were part of the daily life.
At the time it was illegal to mix as a German citizen with Blacks, Jews, Gypsies and their children. This is translated into the first half of the movie in which Leyna falls in love with a young Nazi soldier, and has to keep this secret. Another frequently seen storyline in wartime films, however Assante takes it in a new direction with the lead character being a black German. Following how that fact alone made life all the more challenging.
Sections of the first half of the film do get strangely cheesy. For example, Leyna explaining to her new found love, that she was told by the Nazi rule, just like the Jews, she cannot swim because of who she is.... *que jumping in the river together* (100 ft away from Nazi guards). For a girl who has been raised to be smart and careful about how she lives or face persecution, this kind of ignorance seemed doubtful. In a film with such an intense subject matter, it seemed out of place to have the characters behave like this. Perhaps a sense of innocence to reality was the aim, however this didn’t always translate seamlessly. Cinematically the film was fine, the script was decently constructed although it felt like it could have had more German actors/actresses cast in the key roles. For the most part Steinberg carried the performances very maturely for such a young actress in an emotionally ‘grown up’ role.
The Second half of the film is where Amandla Steinberg is truly put through a set of gruelling emotional scenes that one can only describe as heart breaking to watch. As Leyna’s identity is a constant battle within a battle. She battles with her blackness vs German heritage internally and externally. So once her papers declaring her a German citizen were burned by a Nazi soldier, it was no surprise she was soon arrested.
Having to watch the mental and physical trials these real people had dealt with is challenging. This is what translates brilliantly across the whole film. The fact that this was a fellow humans' very difficult conditions of life.
Being a period piece, it was interesting that Leyna’s life seemed to be a reflection of now. A battle to be accepted in a society, led by few, so intrinsically ready to divide so many. Perhaps the most important theme of this film is that is has shed light on something most of us have never heard of or really thought about. A period piece that has many echoes into today’s societal issues, gives us all something to think about and engage with.