Why 'The Hate U Give' Is the Film We All Need to See This Black History Month

February 14, 2019

This post contains a spoiler free review.

There are movies that hold your attention and others that demand it. The film The Hate U Give directed by George Tillman Jr., starring Amandla Stenberg, and based on the Young Adult novel of the same name by Angie Thomas, falls under the latter category. Focused on the racial dynamics best examined in America and centred around the murder of an unarmed young Black Man, The Hate U Give (THUG) is devasting yet all-powerful. It is without a doubt the best film for moviegoers to see this black history month and is one that rightfully deserves our funds and our support.

The film opens up with protagonist Starr Carters’ father Maverick (played by Russel Hornsby) giving his very young children ‘the talk’ (then followed by an introduction to the Black Panther’s ‘Ten Point Program’) and no, in this context we aren’t talking about the birds and the bees but instead something more life-threatening. For many black people, the first ‘talk’ they hear is a play by play of what to do when approached by the police. Unfortunately, in this day and age (and the majority of time gone by for that matter) the way we discuss, prevent, and prepare for police shootings is critical as proved in many fatal cases over the years including but sadly not limited to, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, and Philando Castile. In a society that pleads ‘post-racial’, police violence is the continued tragedy that exposes how far we still have to come. 
“It’s impossible to be unarmed when our blackness is the weapon they fear.”
This opening scene will resonate with a lot of black viewers whilst perhaps confronting white audience members. It sets the tone for a movie that has its enjoyable light and humorous moments but is mostly hard-hitting even with its teenage audience. However, as a viewer, it was Maverick’s final order that his kids never forget that “being Black is an honour because you come from greatness” that speaks to my long-standing appreciation for and deep emotional connection to Angie Thomas’s novel and newly turned film.

Khalil Harris (Algee Smith) and Starr Carter (Amandla Stenberg)

For fans of the novel, a New York Times bestseller that has been banned in Texan schools because of its uncompromising ability to shed light on the truth, it is a faithful and satisfying adaptation of a book that feels pretty much sacred to black readers who with this novel, saw themselves reflected in literature for the first time. Yes, I’ll let you know now that sadly a book favourite, Devante, isn’t present in the film and that as expected by a lot of us, KJ Apa as Starr’s white boyfriend Chris (a last-minute recast when original choice Kian Lawley was exposed for having publicly shared racist comments on his Youtube channel) was definitely a less than ideal choice. However, performances from Amandla Stenberg, Regina Hall, Russell Hornsby, Anthony Mackie, and young TJ Wright, make up for those things - oh and as much as I struggle to say this, Disney’s Sabrina Carpenter. Carpenter plays the infuriatingly ignorant and basically racist “best friend” so well, you almost feel like sending her hate mail (but you don’t because even though it’s just too real, she’s an actor and we don’t do hate mail).
You know, not everybody got superpowers like you. Shine your light. I ain’t named you Starr by accident.
Stenberg performs brilliantly in this film, tugging on our heartstrings just as she did as Rue in the Hunger Games but this time more purposefully and with more depth. Even with a growing list of credits behind her, THUG is without a doubt her breakthrough performance as she proves that she’s way more than a badass social media activist. Her role sees her as a young black woman navigating two vastly different worlds. One being her predominately black community in Garden Heights where she lives among both community leaders and gang leaders and her life as Starr version 2 at the predominantly white Williamson Prep private school where she tries to be as approachable and non-threatening as possible. This role was likely close to home for Stenberg who is of mixed heritage, and will similarly resonate with the many people of colour navigating mostly white spaces. As we are introduced to her questionable Williamson friends, a voice over jokes that “Hayley must have watched Straight Out of Compton again last night” and we get it, we really do. We, being those who are familiar with code-switching, eye-rolling, and microaggression ignoring.
“If you don’t see my blackness, you don’t see me.”
By the time we meet the charming and dimpled Khalil (Algee Smith) at a house party, (Starr’s childhood friend) we are already becoming familiar with Starr’s complex and intentional double life. However, as Khalil and Starr leave the party after it gets broken up and he explains the meaning of Tupac’s ‘T.H.U.G L.I.F.E’, (The Hate U Give Little Infants Fu*ks Everybody) shit gets serious. “What society gives to us when we’re little comes back to bite them in the ass when we grow up and we wild out. You get that?” Khalil explains to Starr. But it’s through the course of this movie, most prominently in the scene that follows and a phenomenal scene later in the movie with TJ Wright, that we really really get that. By the time you leave the cinema, the meaning is crystal clear. 

Author, Angie Thomas
As the story develops and the viewer watches the criminalisation of an unarmed young male who had a long life ahead of him cut short because an officer mistook a hairbrush for a gun, the following question is raised; how can a dead person be charged with their own murder? It’s possible and it happens all the time in America. It’s racist and unjust racial profiling like that, that has the responsible officer remain to point a gun at Khalil’s dead body (this is absurd) as Starr watches him die. It’s racist and unjust racial profiling like that, that has the responsible officer assumed innocent and painted as the victim whilst Starr bears the responsibility of sole witness. 

To be frank, I’ve seen this movie twice so far and it doesn’t get any easier. Even having read the book way beforehand. I spent the entire duration of viewing one with clenched fists and teary eyes, with many many scenes evoking intense emotional responses from the viewer. There are so many brilliant scenes that I don't wish to spoil for you but even as a viewer you feel everything that Starr feels and when we live in a world where ignorance is a bliss that people of colour can’t afford yet seemingly everyone else can, it’s refreshing to see white audiences put in her shoes. I hope that it is taken as a teachable experience. 

Kindly, I want audiences to feel distressed and uncomfortable and it seems like the director and author do too, because it’s that feeling that will ultimately fuel them to learn more and to do better. We all have a part to play and if anything, as Starr says to Hayley, THUG perfectly exemplifies that “you don’t need to use the N word and use a fire hose on black people to be racist” and to be real with you, that’s an important yet simple life lesson that many Australians have yet to learn. 

Amandla Stenberg as Starr Carter
While those in the US were lucky enough to see The Hate U Give in cinemas late last year, those of us down under are seeing it three months later and I’ve been really shocked at the lack of screen time it’s had both in cinemas and as advertisements on television. That’s why it’s important that this Black History Month, whether you celebrate it or not, to rally your friends and family and to book your tickets while you can.

As I suggested more colloquially on my Instagram, let's Black Panther this shit. Every day black people are just as resilient and powerful as the superheroes ya’ll salivate over and this film is too well acted and too well directed to go out of session before receiving the buzz it deserves. If Bohemian Rhapsody and A Star Is Born (which came out in November and October respectively) are still being advertised on tv and shown in cinemas, then tell me why only a few Sydney cinemas are screening this film, many of them with only one showing available per day? 

The truth will set you free but first, it will piss you off. 

The Hate U Give is currently showing in Australian Cinemas as of January 31st.
Wanna know more about the book? You can read my review here.
Wanna learn about Angie Thomas's latest novel and future film, On The Come Up? Click here.

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