What struck you most about the story, script and your own fascinating character?
When I first read the manuscript, I was flabbergasted by the nuance and the multifaceted nature of all the characters. Often, when it comes to the way black women are portrayed in the media, they aren’t depicted as fully rounded people – we get pretty one-dimensional roles. This whole story, and Starr (the role I play) stood out for me. It’s a depiction of a young African-American girl who has to navigate different environments, both socially and politically.
With that in mind, do you relate to Starr and her life at all?
I do relate to her, 100%. I felt like I was able to reference a lot of my own life experience when it came to the themes in the book and in the script, because I had the experience of growing up in Los Angeles in a black community and going to a white private school. It made me think about race at a young age. With The Hate You Give, I had never seen anything in a script that I felt reflected my own life experience so accurately. I knew that in order to be accepted, or to feel accepted, I had to overcompensate by intentionally eradicating black ways of speaking and being, when I was in that space at school. So, as a survival mechanism, I couldn’t be fully myself, be fully black.
What was it like collaborating with this gifted cast?
I loved working with everyone! I’m a huge fan of Regina Hall, who plays my mother, and Issa Rae – obviously it was black girl magic! They were incredible. Not only was there a completely professional environment, but also they were supportive and they had my back. They filled up my whole heart. Russell Hornsby, who plays my father, became a parental figure to me, and working with Common, who plays my uncle, was also great. There were a lot of laughs when he was around!
What advice do you have for young people?
I urge people in the mix of their activism to take the time to see how they’re functioning on an interpersonal basis, how they interact with others and care for them. Basically, I’d like people to ask themselves: ‘how am I supporting the black men and women in my life?’ and ‘how am I supporting the less fortunate people in my life?’
I urge them to cultivate friendships and community. It’s important to be active in the community, to be kind and compassionate.
Who are your role models?
My biggest role model would be my mom. She is so smart, spiritual and very grounded. My mom is someone I look up to. I love my sisters too, and now I have a bunch of work sisters as well. Alicia Keys has become a really close friend and so has Janelle Monáe. They are incredible women who understand that life can be tough in Hollywood, and they offer their support, having already gone through everything I am going through now themselves.
Based on Angie Thomas’s book The Hate U Give, the movie also stars Russell Hornsby, Regina Hall, Common, Anthony Mackie and Issa Rae.
Catch it on cinema now, nationwide