The Hate U Give, based on the eponymous YA novel by Angie Thomas, follows the life of Starr Carter (Amandla Stenberg), a 16-year-old growing up in a poor, predominantly black neighbourhood while attending an upscale, mostly white private school. Starr feels as though she’s living two very different lives but after her childhood friend, Khalil, is fatally shot right in front of her by a white police officer, she’s forced to pick a side, find her voice and stand up for what’s right.
The film releases in SA cinemas on Friday (19 October,) and stars Amandla Stenberg, Regina Hall, Anthony Mackie, Issa Rae, Rusell Hornsby and K.J. Apa.
The Hate U Give opens with a 9-year-old Starr, her 10-year-old brother and little one-year-old Sekani sitting on his mom’s lap, as their father gives them a talk.
“Being black is an honour”, he explains, and don’t you ever forget it. But if a police officer pulls you aside, you act, you don’t react.
He demonstrates, they listen, and follow his instructions by placing their hands out on the table… where he can see them.
Early on in the film and as seen in the trailer, Starr is in the car when her friend, Khalil, is shot by a white police officer. The officer assumed he was reaching for a gun, mistook a brush for a gun and fired a shot into his chest. The brush fell to the floor.
Watching it over and again in Starr’s nightmares, it’s just as frightening – just as real.
Oscar Grant, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown Jr., Eric Garner and a few months ago, Harith Augustus.
These are just a few of the black American citizens who fell victim to an unfair criminal justice system after being killed by police officers. Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old from Miami Gardens who was shot by the later acquitted George Zimmerman, gave momentum to the #BlackLivesMatter movement. The movement has since held protests speaking out against police killings of black people, police brutality, racial profiling and inequality.
Khalil, similarly living in the supposedly “ghetto” Garden Heights, met the same unjust fate after being racially profiled and brutally killed by a police officer. The film not only holds a mirror up to society, but gets it so very spot on that it becomes important for our kids to see, even though I often found it difficult to watch.
I almost felt guilty sitting in my seat in sheer disbelief that this is the way things really are.
Another doccie worth watching with your 16+ teen is 13th, detailing how corporations running the US prison systems need bums on seats and how African American men are often unfairly victimised and thrown in prison. The first-hand accounts of killings by white police officers are absolutely chilling. Strong Island is another documentary worth watching.
2. Check your privilege
The film’s honest depiction of what goes on in poorer communities as far as gangsterism and drugs are concerned is something particularly important for our kids to see. And not only because in poorer South African communities children are exposed to a very similar upbringing, but because it’s important to realise, when you haven’t, just how privileged you are.
Much like Starr is torn between how her community feels about Khalil’s death and the reactions from her white school friends, author Angie Thomas told Cosmopolitan her upbringing was the same. Only the conversations were about Oscar Grant, a 22-year-old black man shot in the back by Johannes Mehserle. "In my neighborhood, Oscar was 'one of us' but in my school, he 'shouldn’t have done this or that,' or 'he got what he deserved'," she said.
Knowing your privilege is knowing you cannot say things like that, knowing full well Western society was built on the oppression of black men and women. White privilege by definition refers to the advantages white people have accrued, and the disadvantages experienced by non-white people, simply because of the colour of their skin.
The film explores Starr’s journey to her eventual realisation (and the viewer's too) that, while the police officer may have made a mistake, he wouldn’t have done so if he wasn’t racially profiling Khalil. And he definitely wouldn’t have assumed a brush for a gun had Khalil not been black.
3. Stand up for what you believe in
While she struggles to find herself at first, the film celebrates Starr’s character development and she becomes all the more powerful when she fully embraces who she is – a lesson in itself. But she not only finds her power, she finds her voice. And there’s a very important message in that.
Maverick, Starr’s father, explains at a pivotal part in the film that you need to be ready to fight for what you believe in. What you live for you need to be ready to die for, he says.
In SA we’ve seen the youth start entire movements, from the Soweto uprising to the recent #feesmustfall and #Rhodesmustfall campaigns that have actually seen the removal of statues of colonisers and halted, at least temporarily, the increase of fees at tertiary institutions. This movie is a moving but also encouraging film for teens and young adults to see.
- Also read: When your teen joins the protest march
“The Hate U Give little infants f*ck everybody,” is a quote by Tupac Shakur upon which the title of the novel and film is based. The acronym for the quote, if you didn’t pick it up, is T.H.U.G. L.I.F.E.
Here's the video. WARNING: strong language.
“What you feed us as seeds, grows, and blows up in your face,” he says, suggesting what you give, you get – it’s an endless cycle of hatred we can’t seem to break free from. But the film might very well empower the youth to stand up for what they believe in, Do the Right Thing (that’s a nod to Spike Lee’s 1989 film on my part) and #ReplaceHate with love, empathy and understanding.
Will you and your kids be watching The Hate U Give? Which other films do you think are important for teens and young adults to watch? Tell us by emailing your suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org and we may share them with our readers.
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