By Stephanie Younger •
Based on the acclaimed YA novel by Angie Thomas, The Hate U Give 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 half-brother Seven (Lamar Johnson), who was ten, 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. In a similar vein, Maverick reminded not only his children, but us all that, “Being Black is an honor because you come from greatness.”
Now at 16-years-old, “Starr Version One” resides in a Garden Heights, an impoverished and predominantly Black neighborhood. After losing one of her closest childhood friends to gun violence, “Starr Version Two” was enrolled in Williamson Prep. She makes an effort to avoid being viewed as “ghetto,” by code-switching and being cautious her mannerisms at this predominantly white private school. Meanwhile, her white counterparts are praised for using African American Vernacular English (AAVE). She narrates, “Williamson Starr doesn’t use slang. If a rapper would say it, she doesn’t; even if her white friend do.” She continues, “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.”
Early in the movie, 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 a white police officer on the way, with a badge number that reads One-Fifteen. One-Fifteen is the officer who shoots Khalil, mistaking his hairbrush for a gun. These two versions of a traumatized and devastated Starr disintegrate as the murder of her childhood friend gains national attention. 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 Starr and her family at risk. When Starr was ten, a King Lord member murdered her childhood best friend, Natasha in a drive-by shooting. Being terrified that a King Lord member would take her life, Starr didn’t speak up. “I wanna be a better friend for Khalil.”
Meanwhile at school, tension between Starr and her friend, Hailey (Sabrina Carpenter) arises due to Hailey’s racist comments. The more explicit Hailey’s racism becomes, the less tolerant Starr becomes of microaggressions, such as “not seeing color.” Starr ultimately decides to move on with her life without Hailey, due to her racism–from fried chicken jokes, turning Khalil’s murder into a trend, to implications that Khalil somehow deserved to be murdered.
“It’s all ‘our,’ and ‘us,’ ‘Black Lives Matter,’ ‘girl,’ until you clutch your purse when you’re in the elevator with a Black person. You don’t need to use the n-word and use a fire hose on Black people to be racist,” Starr said to Hailey in one scene.
I can relate to Starr, in the sense that I was given “the talk” when I was nine, after Trayvon Martin was murdered–either that, or I was given “the talk” when I was twelve, after Eric Garner and Mike Brown were murdered within a matter of weeks. A relatable aspect of this movie was when Hailey unfollowed Starr’s Tumblr blog. Several of my white counterparts from my childhood, whom I once considered friends, unfollowed me on my social media platforms because I speak out and take action against anti-Black racism through my posts on social media and my community work.
As a Black girl who is Starr’s age, The Hate U Give was extremely moving to me. This movie addresses issues that are relevant to this generation, such as code switching, and the world’s negative portrayal of Black victims of this issue. It also addresses the trauma and devastation Black people as a whole, but specifically what Black women and girls have to cope with in the face of police violence. At an event 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. “You are enough. I don’t care what the world thinks.” The Hate U Give teaches Black youth, especially Black girls that it’s worth fighting 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.