By, Katherine L. ’20
THUG LIFE. The Hate U Give Little Infants F***s Everybody. This phrase was coined by 2pac but in 2017 it inspired Angie Thomas’s popular novel The Hate U Give. Thomas’s story follows a teenage girl, Starr Carter, who lives in a predominantly black neighborhood but attends a predominantly white high school. Starr’s life takes a dramatic turn when she witnesses a police officer shoot her unarmed black friend, Khalil Harris. Angry, afraid, and feeling like an outsider in both of her communities, Starr struggles to find her voice and take a stand against racism and police brutality. The Hate U Give is an empowering story of loss, protest, and identity. The 2017 novel evoked some conflicting responses: while many readers praised it for bringing attention to an important issue, schools across the country banned it from their shelves for vulgarity and racial language. The recent 2018 film adaptation of The Hate U Give received some criticism as well, mainly sparked by the decision to cast Amandla Stenberg as Starr. Critics pointed out that Amandla has lighter skin than the girl illustrated on the cover of the novel, to which Thomas responded that although the “lightening of stories” is a problem in Hollywood, Amandla embodies her vision of Starr. The Hate U Give, in theaters today, has received an overwhelmingly positive response from viewers who commend it for telling a story that needed to be told.
The Hate U Give proves that Hollywood doesn’t need an alternate reality or a fantasy world to present a story of intense struggle. In fact, the movie tackles issues that are embedded in our society. What makes the story so powerful is that it does not follow the common structure of presenting problems and then solving them. Instead, it presents problems and then leaves the audience to struggle with them. Take Khalil Harris’s murder for example. The police officer that shoots him is never indicted. Angie Thomas could have ended the story by putting the officer in jail, and then we would have left the theaters feeling content that justice had been served. Instead, we leave feeling frustrated, which is exactly the feeling a story about police brutality should evoke, because many perpetrators are not held responsible for their actions. The real world doesn’t always have a happy ending, and neither does The Hate U Give. But the purpose of this realistic ending is not to depress the audience, it is to inspire us to take action. Starr makes a difference in her community by speaking up about racism and police brutality, and she gives the audience the responsibility of continuing that activism.
Not only is Starr Carter an activist, but Amandla Stenberg is too, which makes her perfect for the role. Since she came into the public eye in 2012, Amandla has been very outspoken about gender equality, LGBTQ+ rights, the #MeToo movement, and as highlighted in The Hate U Give, the Black Lives Matter movement. In 2014, her Youtube video “Don’t Cash Crop on my Cornrows” went viral for calling out cultural appropriation in pop culture. More recently, she made Time magazine’s annual list of “30 Most Influential Teens” (not once, but twice!), co-authored the comic book Niobe: She is Death about a young black girl, and wrote an op-ed for Teen Vogue in response to Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony. Evidently, Amandla is an inspiring woman and someone the Winsor community should keep an eye on in the future. But what makes the role of Starr even more fitting for her is that she has a very personal connection to Starr’s story. Amandla grew up in a predominantly black neighborhood in Los Angeles and attended a more privileged, predominantly white school. In The Hate U Give, Starr struggles with the pressure to present herself differently at home and at school in order to preserve a certain image, a practice known as “code-switching.” Amandla can relate to this struggle and commented, “I learned how to be very intentional of how I presented myself in order to fit in.” Because she feels this connection to Starr, Amandla was much more involved in the screenwriting process of the The Hate U Give than cast members typically are. She explained the importance of her contribution to this process by saying, “I wanted to ensure that her language was authentic to her, that there were words being put in her mouth that were legit.”
The Hate U Give is just as necessary as it is powerful. Not only does the story tackle major issues in our society, but also smaller issues that we should all think about. One such issue that stood out to me was the use of tragedies for purposes such as missing school. When word of Khalil’s murder spreads, Starr’s classmates take advantage of the opportunity to cut class and pretend to be concerned about the injustice. This aspect of the movie is relevant to Winsor, being a school that participated in the March for Our Lives last spring. Although Winsor students are politically aware and do genuinely care about injustice, the message still stands: when we participate in something, we need to think about why we care. The Hate U Give is also relevant to Winsor because, as Caitlin Smith ‘21 notes, “Starr goes to a preppy private school, which comes with many privileges, but she hides her identity as a person of color when she’s at school. This made me think about whether people at Winsor are facing this same struggle.” These are just a few examples of how The Hate U Give generates self-reflection in viewers along with inspiration for change. Because it is thought-provoking, because it is increasingly relevant in our society, and because it stars someone who is just as inspiring as her character, The Hate U Give is a movie every Winsor student should watch and have conversations about.