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 begins 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), which many Black parents give to their children how to act around police and survive encounters with them. 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 stereotyped by code-switching and being cautious of 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.”
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 they are pulled over by an aggressive white police officer, whose badge number reads One-Fifteen shoots Khalil, mistaking his hairbrush for a gun. Starr 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, revealing her identity and exposing a local gang called the King Lords means putting Starr’s life as well as her 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 was 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 overt Hailey’s racism becomes—from appropriating African American Vernacular English (AAVE), to making “fried chicken” jokes, and saying Khalil deserved to be murdered—the less tolerant Starr becomes of microaggressions such as “not seeing color.” She decides 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.”
As the murder of Khalil reaches national headlines, the Carters begin facing threats and harassment by the King Lords, causing Starr’s determination to speak up to dwindle away. Maverick immediately reminds Starr, Seven and Sekani of the Black Panther Party Ten-Point Program, instilling more persistence within her. These two versions of a traumatized and devastated Starr disintegrate. Not only did Starr stand up for Khalil in front of a jury, but she began challenging the intentions of her uncle, Carlos (Common)—a police officer who works at the same precinct as One-Fifteen— and the intentions of her white counterparts.
Like Starr, I was also 9 years old when I was first given “the talk” on how to survive police encounters. I am now 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 takes to speak out and take action against anti-Black racism. The message that I received from this film was that it’s okay to be vulnerable, to be angry, and to speak up, even if there is a price to pay. The Hate U Give addressed important issues faced by Black girls, such as code switching and the negative depictions of Black youth who have been murdered by the police, and the trauma and devastation experienced by Black people as a result of state violence.
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.”
Stephanie Younger is a 16-year-old who advocates for womanism and the abolition of youth prisons.