by Hannah Lee
photography courtesy of The Hate You Give Facebook
In 2017, author Angie Thomas released a novel titled The Hate U Give, which went on to chart The New York Times young adult best-seller list. Drawing upon her recollection of Oscar Grant’s wrongful murder during college, Thomas used the term “THUG LIFE,” tattooed across legendary rapper Tupac Shakur’s stomach. In an interview conducted before his death, Shakur revealed the concealed meaning of his expression to represent “The Hate U Give Little Infants F*cks Everybody.”
When explaining the tattoo’s deeper meaning, Shakur said, “What you feed us as seeds, grows and blows up in your face.” Thomas translated that into saying the hate “society gives us as youth, it bites them in the ass when we wild out.”
When society brutalizes innocent children with hate rather than nurturing them with love, they grow up with the mentality to disrupt society as a way of defense. To these children, the hate may act as a stimulus to avenge those that have treated them and their loved ones wrongfully. Even if the innate behaviors of youth are innocent, when nourished with soiled water, these actions may rile a desire to justify.
In The Hate U Give, which released in theatres across the US on October 5, Amandla Stenberg plays the lead role of Starr Carter. Having to live between a segregated society of two neighborhoods — her exuberant home in pre-dominantly black Garden Heights, and the well-maintained, predominantly-white Williamson Prep — Starr conforms to the burdensome expectations that each neighborhood requires of her as a black individual.
In Garden Heights, she’s vulnerable to menacing gang violence, drug lords and police brutality, whereas in Williamson Prep, she wearily juggles this second life of hiding her other identity from peers, remaining passive and speaking “proper” English (without the use of slang).
One weekend, Starr attends a party with her half-sister Kenya, played by Dominique Fishback. As a mixture of R&B and hip-hop fills the room, bodies of teenagers grind to the beat and red solo cups are filled to the brim. As Kenya prepares to confront her boyfriend over a dispute, Starr exits to avoid the drama. In the corner of the living room, with a drink in her hand, she notices her childhood best friend, Khalil, approaching her. They embrace and mingle before the police fire shots outside. The whole crowd unleashes from the house in a scramble to escape and avoid getting caught for underage drinking.
As Starr and Khalil hastily make their getaway, they get pulled over for failing to signal a lane switch. Khalil steps out of his vehicle and places his hands on the dashboard, while making jokes to stop Starr from worrying. In the process of easing her worries, Khalil sets off a chain of events that set the heavy plot of the film.
The overarching fight in the film is justice for African-American lives that are wrongfully lost to violence, often at the hands of police. Starr’s double life is constantly challenged and she is trapped between speaking out as a witness to this hate, or remaining silence to avoid more hate directed toward her.
Juggling these two separate selves haunts her every day, her mind overcrowds with worries of defending her black community whilst not making a scene that racially and culturally separates her from those at Williamson.
Starr is placed with a monstrous hurdle ahead. Her fear of collapsing under hateful eyes in either of her neighborhoods holds her back despite knowing that after the courageous jump comes a breath of comfort. The understanding that healing takes time is undervalued. The moment a calamity occurs, society pressures the need to urgently raise one’s voice in light of the incident, but this misunderstanding is not the reality – because trauma causes a million alternate voices, enabling lies while trying vigorously to discern the truth. Once that true voice is found, the judgments from opposing forces and fears of being trivialized remain.
One potential route toward healing is bringing a personal situation to light while also understanding that this process differs for each individual. Every black experience is different, just like every white experience is different. There is no point in trying to relate to every detailed aspect of a personal story because inevitably, you cannot.
There is power in standing shoulder-to-shoulder alongside a brother and sister in unity, but even within the same culture, stories differ.
During the Q&A after a screening with Russell Hornsby, who portrays Starr’s father, Maverick Carter, in the film, a question arose from the audience regarding the “wokeness” of his character and discussions of social injustice that were conversed on set.
With a gentle tone, Hornsby elucidated that their goal was not to produce social justice warriors but rather to depict the harsh realities black people endure daily. The pressing motive is not to challenge one’s awareness of society, but if an issue is personal enough, it naturally does.
Naturally, a personal experience demands that voice to be heard. Starr’s story is to evoke emotional empathy within the audience, hoping to bring change and healing.