Angie Thomas’ debut novel, The Hate U Give, has recently been brought onto the big-screen, with the powerful and politically critical adaptation being directed by George Tillman Jr.
With Amandla Stenberg taking the leading role as Starr Carter, this movie brings real-world issues of police brutality and racial strife into cinemas, visually confronting the audience with the harsh reality of racism in 2018.
The movie begins with ten year old Starr getting a talk from her father about how to act and what to do when in an interaction with a police officer, a necessary conversation amongst African-American families due to the historic, systemic racism across America today, where the movie is set. The audience then learns about Starr’s life, both her experiences in her lower-income black neighbourhood, Garden Heights, and her wealthy, white school, Williamson Prep. Since a young age, Starr has learnt to code-switch between these two environments, with ‘Starr version two’ at Williamson not ‘giving anyone a reason to call her ghetto’. With her saying that she can’t be ‘too Garden Heights’ when she’s at Williamson, or can’t be ‘too Williamson’ when she’s in Garden Heights, this young character embodies the struggles for young black teenagers growing up surrounded by racism. Both Stenberg herself and author Angie Thomas grew up in black neighbourhoods and attended white schools, thus Starr’s character hits close to home for themselves and many other black teenagers across America.
Starr’s uneasy balance between her two worlds is suddenly challenged when her friend, Khalil, is shot by a white police officer after being pulled over for a traffic stop. Starr must then decide whether to put herself in harm’s way and speak up for Khalil, as the only witness to the crime, or to stay quiet and try to continue navigating her way through life. With this being the second of Starr’s friends to be shot, Starr eventually finds her voice and speaks out for Khalil, refusing to let anyone make her be quiet.
Not shying away from any of the explicit violence this narrative embodies, Tillman brings to our screens a realistic portrayal of what it is like to experience first hand violence and the effects of this upon families. With the shooting being arguably the most powerful scene in the movie, Tillman hones in on Stenberg’s portrayal of Starr’s raw emotion upon watching her friend die in front of her, similarly refusing to hide the violence and trauma of this event, mirroring situations that are happening all over the world in reality. Screenwriter Audrey Wells furthers these decisions by choosing to direct the narrative by grounding the story in Starr’s life, she is further personalising these experiences of police brutality and gang culture, rather than merely viewing them as a political problem.
Following Khalil’s shooting and Starr’s rise to activism, the film takes an even more emotional turn, with the Carter family being targeted by gangs and Starr coming to terms with the racist attitudes around her at school. One of the most overwhelming moments is the one during City Hall protest scene, where Starr speaks up publicly for Khalil amongst black communities fighting for equality. With this scene taking around four days to film, the complex cinematographic aspects of the protest, turned riot, make you feel like you are watching a real riot unfold on the screen in front of you. Its success stems from its incredible realistic portrayal of riot violence, it directly mirrors the protests seen on the news, or experienced by individuals attempting to fight for their political and social rights.
Directly after this scene, the anger experienced by the black community builds up into the final climactic scene, where the film sums up the effects of growing up surrounded by racism, police brutality, gang culture, anger and resentment. Highlighting the need for tolerance and acceptance in society, this powerful moment (which I won’t disclose, as not to spoil the entire plot) revolves around an idea that is crucial throughout the entire plot, that is Tupac’s premise of Thug Life, an acronym for The Hate U Give Little Infants F***s Everybody.
Part of this movie’s success stems from Stenberg’s incredible embodiment of Starr on screen, capturing the raw emotion experienced by someone undergoing trauma, loss and the overwhelming anger that comes alongside racial violence. With ‘everyday’ actions of racism becoming commonplace throughout Starr’s life, Stenberg’s portrayal of Starr’s endurance, anger and strength couldn’t have been more fitting.
Despite the anger, resentment and sorrow that dominates Starr’s traumatic experiences, the lasting message is a realistic one, but is also one that is very hopeful for the future.
The Hate U Give is a cinematic masterpiece that is a necessary watch in this crucial period of political inequality, particularly experienced by African-American communities. Giving the message to its audience to speak up and be heard, it emphasises a need to get involved and affect change, to prevent traumas of police brutality and gang violence happening time and time again.
Image source: IMDB