By Stephanie Younger •
The Hate U Give is a film based on the acclaimed YA novel authored by Angie Thomas. Directed by George Tillman Jr. this film debuts with a then 9-year-old Starr Carter (Amandla Stenberg), her younger brother, Sekani (TJ Wright), who was one year old, and her older brother, Seven (Lamar Johnson), who was ten years old, being given “the talk” by their formerly-incarcerated father Maverick Carter (Russell Hornsby). Many Black parents across America help their children survive encounters with the police by giving them the talk. Maverick shared the Black Panther Party Ten-Point Program with his children, and reminded us all that, “Being Black is an honor because you come from greatness.”
Starr and her family reside in a Black neighborhood, Garden Heights. After losing one of her childhood friends, Natasha, to gun violence, Starr, Seven and Sekani were enrolled in Williamson Prep. Now at 16-year-old, Starr makes an effort to avoid being viewed as “ghetto,” by code-switching and being cautious her mannerisms at this wealthy, predominantly white private school, around her best friends and her white boyfriend. While her white counterparts are praised for co-opting African American Vernacular English (AAVE), Starr says,
“Slang makes them cool. Slang makes me hood. Williamson Starr is approachable. No stank eyes, or yelling because Williamson Starr is non-confrontational. Basically, Williamson Starr doesn‘t give anyone a reason to call her ghetto. And I hate myself for doing it.”
On the weekend, Starr goes to a party in Garden Heights, where she runs into her childhood friend, Khalil Harris (Algee Smith). When shots are fired at the party, Khalil drives Starr home, until the kids are pulled over by an aggressive white police officer on the way, with a badge number that reads One-Fifteen. This is the officer who shoots Khalil, mistaking his hairbrush for a gun. She is asked by April Ofrah (Issa Rae), an attorney and an activist, to testify when the grand jury is ordered to consider charges against One-Fifteen. Speaking up for Khalil and exposing a local gang called the King Lords means putting the Carter family’s lives at risk. When Starr’s childhood friend, Natasha was murdered by a King Lord in a drive-by shooting, she didn’t speak up because she terrified that a King Lord member would take her life as well. Now, Starr says, “I wanna be a better friend for Khalil.”
Meanwhile at Williamson Prep, wealthy, white students use the murder of Khalil as an excuse to cut classes, and Starr’s friend Hailey (Sabrina Carpenter) doesn’t see the problem with it. As tensions arise between Starr and Hailey, she tries to keep a brave face. The more explicit Hailey’s racist words and actions become—from appropriating AAVE to making fried chicken jokes, to saying Khalil deserved to be murdered—, the less tolerant Starr becomes of “not seeing color.” She ends up deciding to move on with her life without Hailey, and calls in her white boyfriend, Chris (K.J. Apa) to recognize his privilege. Remarkably, she says, ”If you don’t see my Blackness, then you don’t see me.”
After speaking up on National T.V., the Carters begin facing threats and harassment by the King Lords. Maverick reminds Starr, Seven and Sekani of the Black Panther Party Ten-Point Program, igniting more determination within Starr to speak up. As the murder of her childhood friend gains national attention, these two versions of a traumatized and devastated Starr disintegrate. Not only did Starr stand up for Khalil in front of a jury, she began challenging the intentions of her uncle, Carlos (Common)—a police officer who works for the same precinct as One-Fifteen— and the intentions of her white counterparts. When the jury decides not to indict the officer who murdered Khalil, more people are galvanized into protest. As Miss Ofrah hands Starr a megaphone and asks, “You ready to use your weapon?” —Starr makes the decision to reveal her identity at this protest, where people were met with police violence, on top of what happened to Khalil.
“No matter what we say, no matter how loud they shout, they refuse to hear us,” Starr narrates.
As a Black girl who is Starr’s age, The Hate U Give was extremely moving to me, in the sense that it addressed important issues faced by Black girls, such as code switching, the negative depictions of Black youth who have been murdered by the police. It also addresses the trauma and devastation Black people as a whole, but specifically what Black women and girls face in light of police violence. I was 9 years old when I was first given “the talk” on how to handle police interactions, briefly after Trayvon Martin was murdered. The second time my parents gave me “the talk,” I was 12 years old, right after Eric Garner and Mike Brown were murdered within a matter of weeks. Like Starr, I am also 16-years-old and it has been a painful experience to lose friendships with people I knew during my childhood. However, I know in my mind that it is worth doing whatever it speak out and take action against anti-Black racism. At an event I attended in July, I asked Angie Thomas, the author of The Hate U Give, what her message was to Black girls who are criminalized and demonized for speaking up and taking action against anti-Black racism. She said, “You are enough. I don’t care what the world thinks.” The Hate U Give teaches Black youth, especially Black girls that is okay to be vulnerable, to be angry, and sends a message that to fight for your community—even if there is a price to pay.
Stephanie Younger is a 16-year-old student activist and writer who advocates for womanism and the abolition of youth prisons.