By Staff Writer Gabriella Barthe.
Think back on the last few years of news reporting. Remember the names that have flooded your ears, the lives lost that we refuse to forget. Look back to the people who have died at the hands of police officers when they weren’t armed, weren’t fighting back, and weren’t doing an illegal activity. Say their names.
George Tillman Jr’s The Hate U Give speaks for those names, those people who can no longer speak for themselves, the people who died due to their race. The Hate U Give is a powerful story, based on Angie Thomas’ book of the same name, about the voice everyone has to stand up against oppression and one young girl’s fight on behalf of her best friend who was shot and killed by a police officer.
Starr Carter (Amandla Stenberg) was born in Garden Heights, a mostly poor black neighborhood overrun by crime and drug activity. During the days, Starr goes to Williamson Prep, a predominately white private school just out of town.
In Garden Heights, Starr can’t talk like her white friends, at Williamson, Starr can’t act out of line in anyway without being labelled as ghetto. She walks the line between her two worlds, constantly code switching, and feeling like she isn’t truly a member of either community. She’s too poor, too different, to be truly accepted at Williamson, and she’s a traitor, too “better than you” to be accepted in Garden Heights.
One weekend, Starr goes to a high school party where one of her “friends” attempts to beat up a girl, and the other is selling drugs. When shots are fired somewhere out of sight, Starr leaves the party with Khalil Harris (Algee smith), one of her best friends since childhood, and the friend that was selling drugs that night.
Khalil gets one good conversation in with Starr before becoming the central focus of the remainder of the film, at which point he spoon-feeds the audience a major message that is straight from the book. For those who are fans of Tupac Shakur, you likely recognize the term T.H.U.G. L.I.F.E to stand for “the hate u give little infants fucks everyone.” Which judging by the way the film plays out, is really driven home to the viewers.
Within moments, the two are pulled over by a white police officer, and ultimately Khalil is shot and killed on the sight brushing his hair. This major difference from the book here, the reasoning for the police officer’s acquittal later in the movie is much more apparent than Khalil’s actions in the novel: opening the door, holding nothing, and asking Starr if she was okay.
From this point forward, the film revolves around not only Starr, but her entire community’s reaction to Khalil’s death, from Khalil’s grandmother and guardian, to his estranged drug-addled mother, to Starr’s entire family, the local church, the King Lords – the prominent drug kings in the area, even Williamson.
When Starr crosses paths with Just Us for Justice, it is clear to the audience that this represents the Black Lives Matter movement of the present day. Viewers are supposed to connect the dots that this film isn’t just a story, it’s real life.
One of Starr’s few Williamson friends Hailey (Sabrina Carpenter) in the book shows a chilling representation of blatant racism, while in the movie portrays the subtleties of harmful microaggressions that many are likely to not understand as damaging. In this way the film both loses a powerful representation of racism while also showcases a face that many don’t think about. It sheds a light on the fact that a person doesn’t have to be a loud and proud Neo-Nazi to perpetuate oppressive actions and ideals.
Whether it be participating in a “rally” merely as an excuse to cut class rather than actually doing good for the cause, making a side comment that perpetuates racist stereotypes, or concerning yourself only with one side of a political agenda, Hailey showcases through pilling them together, just how damaging this can be.
Overall, the cast was strong and represented their characters well – even if many of those characters seemed more trope-like in the film than their literary counterparts. Though, this aspect is more of a fault of cinematic standards than the message of the film itself.
As the film progresses, it becomes clear just how much everyone is affected by the hate you give little infants. By oppressing people from birth, it creates negative situations that further instill harmful ways of living, terrible stereotypes, infighting, and ultimately lead to more deaths, more lives ruined, and more reasons why this problem hasn’t been fixed yet.
If you are interested in Young Adult novels, are concerned with human rights, enjoy coming of age films, or just really want to see something politically charged and related to the present day – go see The Hate U Give. Though, if you aren’t a teenage girl, have already seen the film, or really want to get into it, I recommend finding Boots Riley’s Sorry to Bother You instead. Or, ideally, go see both.