The bold and powerful film “The Hate U Give” begins with a startling scene. A black family is having “The Talk.” For white families, “the talk” is the rite of passage discussion about the birds and the bees, but for black families is how to behave if stopped by a police officer.
Current events ultimately imbue the way we experience a movie. When I first saw “The Hate U Give” in the fall of 2018, I thought it was good. After the death of George Floyd and watching it again last night, it has become indispensable cinema. “The Hate U Give,” based on the Angie Thomas novel by the same name, tells the story of Starr (Amandla Stenberg) – a high school student who witnesses the death of childhood friend Khalil (Algee Smith) at the hands of police. He was reaching out for his comb which is mistaken for a gun.
What makes it even more daring is the way director George Tillman Jr. articulates in an engaging way how divided we are as a country vis a vis racial politics. Starr, who lives in a black neighborhood and attends a posh private school – literally compartmentalizes her life. She explains that there’s a Starr 2.0, and she “flips a switch” when she attends her white school. Notice the way Tillman color codes both environments, furthering the rift. Her neighborhood is saturated with warm colors – and her school is permeated with cool colors. After the murder of Khalil, Starr’s separate worlds start collapsing. As an audience we watch Starr struggle both with the loss of her close friend as well as the need to become politically active. She ultimately finds her voice and speaks up about the shooting. She testifies on a grand jury, and after it decides not to indict the policeman, she’s propelled to take a stance. The appeal of Starr portrayed by an ardent Amandla Stenberg is that she channels the fierceness of a heroine of fantasy movies like “The Hunger Games” or “Divergent” that have to challenge the system – yet this is real. She’s a black girl who fights the opposition.
Although it is dealing with urgent and topical ideas the film remains grounded in character. Starr’s family, her community and friends are fully realized – and are able to give a variety of perspectives. I was particularly invested in and moved by the way her parents are portrayed — their struggles with protecting Starr and giving her the best of the opportunities. The movie also doesn’t recoil from the realities of urban life illustrated by the title’s reference to the Tupac Shakur quote. Starr also confronts her white best friend and her privilege.
This movie’s themes and ideas would be a wonderful conduit to discussions about race relations today.
Starr: “I’ll never be quiet. I can’t change where I come from, or what I’ve been through, so why be ashamed of what makes me me? And I’m going to keep on being Starr. No version Two.”
Director George Tillman Jr. has announced The Hate U Give is now available to watch for free across all platforms.
Tillman Jr. shared the news on Tuesday morning via tweet his very timely 2018 feature is now free to watch. Tillman Jr. also shared his thoughts on why it is even more necessary and urgent to watch The Hate U Give now, writing, “I hope the film provides a bit of understanding. Our story is a reminder to never be afraid to raise our voice in the name of justice. We must stand up for what we believe. The time for change is now!”
Screenplay by Audrey Wells. Based on the novel by Angie Thomas.
Directed by George Tillman Jr.
Starring: Amandla Stenberg, Regina Hall, Russell Hornsby, K.J. Apa, Common, Anthony Mackie, Issa Rae, Algee Smith and Dominique Fishback
About Director George Tillman Jr.
“After seeing the film, COOLEY HIGH, Milwaukee, Wisconsin native George Tillman became inspired to make films of his own. In 1994, George wrote and directed his first feature film, SCENES FOR THE SOUL. It was shot entirely in Chicago, using local talent and resources. The film, which cost $150,000 to make, caught the attention of Doug McHenry and George Jackson who acquired it for Savoy Pictures for $1 million. Following on the momentum of this success, George began to write a script, loosely based on his own life– SOUL FOOD…SOUL FOOD opened to critical and financial success, grossing over $43 million domestically. As a result, George and his producing partner, Bob Teitel, landed a two-year, first look deal at Fox 2000.
State Street Pictures became their company’s new name–a reference to their earlier years as a filmmaking team in Chicago. George’s next directorial effort was MEN OF HONOR, an epic story inspired by the life of Carl Brashear, a man who battled the obstacles of racism, a lack of education, and the loss of his leg to become the United States Navy’s first African-American Master deep sea diver. After the success of MEN OF HONOR, George ventured into producing. In addition to his role as Executive Producer of the beloved SOUL FOOD: The Series for Showtime Networks, George co-produced with partner Bob Teitel the MGM film BARBERSHOP. Widely praised by moviegoers and critics alike, BARBERSHOP opened on September 13th to record-breaking box office success. Hot on the heels of BARBERSHOP, came the sequel BARBERSHOP 2: BACK IN BUSINESS.” (statestreetpictures.com)
“Tillman, Jr. has directed and produced noteworthy features such as The Hate U Give, Soul Food, Men of Honor, Notorious, The Longest Ride, and The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete, as well as episodes of TV series Power, Luke Cage and This Is Us. He has also served as an executive producer of Showtime’s Soul Food: The Series, co-produced the MGMBarbershop franchise films, which grossed over $200 million worldwide, and executive produced Mudbound, which went on to receive four Academy Award nominations.” (Deadline)
Tillman Jr. on Bringing The Hate U Give to the Screen
“The story first came to me in manuscript form when I was working on Luke Cage for Marvel. I was hooked upon reading the first chapter. Starr’s story moved me. It was a story I had never seen told that way before–the idea of this character trying to find her identity, having to code-switch to fit into her school environment. The shooting by a white police officer opened up a lot of conversations, issues in society, and questions that this girl was asking from an innocent place. I was excited about the story and the possibilities of telling it from both dramatic and visual standpoints… Usually for a story like this, you do research, read other material, see other films. I didn’t do that as much for this film. A lot came out instinctively. I grew up as a young kid in Milwaukee. Like many towns in the Midwest, it was very segregated. I lived on the northside. All I saw were African Americans, no white people. I always felt that the relationship with police officers in the community was an issue. At an early age, my parents moved me to a white public school from a school that was primarily African American. I was able to experience what it’s like to be in a white community, how education was viewed there, how funds were spent. The world was completely different. Ideas, the palette of design, sound and the look of the film came to me. It was instinctive based on my experience as a young African American man. That even extended to my filmmaking education. As a director going to film school at Columbia College in Chicago, I was one of only three African Americans learning film.
It all starts with the material. That’s something you learn in film school. It comes down to what the material means to you. Sometimes that gets lost and you have to ask yourself the question several times. But for me the answer never wavered. I knew why this story was important. I could feel it in my soul. When you don’t have to question yourself on that level everyday, you can focus on the story you want to tell and how you want to tell it. For every department, from the beginning to the end, we had that sense of purpose and commitment. (shootonline.com)
Amandla Stenberg on her Journey to becoming Starr
“I fell in love with the book first. It wasn’t even published yet, we didn’t know it was going to end up being number one for eighty weeks or whatever crazy number that it’s at now. I fell in love with the book because of Starr and one of the first things she does is speak so candidly about having these two versions of herself that she presents depending on the environment that she’s in. That was so special to me as someone who has experienced that. I think it’s part of the contemporary black experience that you understand that your success is often conditioned upon how you present yourself. Often showing up all the way as black in white spaces doesn’t really work. So I fell in love with that idea and I already understood it because I had a really similar experience growing up in a black neighborhood but then going to a school across town that was white and privileged and where I presented myself differently and tried to make myself fit in as much as I could. So I already knew how to construct Starr because of my own facets of self. I think we were dramatizing it slightly for the screen and so George and I came up with a scale to dictate depending on where Starr was at in the story and what environment she was in and what facets of self she would show.” (www.rogerebert.com)
About Author Angie Thomas
Angie Thomas was born, raised, and still resides in Jackson, Mississippi as indicated by her accent. She is a former teen rapper whose greatest accomplishment was an article about her in Right-On Magazine with a picture included. She holds a BFA in Creative Writing from Belhaven University and an unofficial degree in Hip Hop. She can also still rap if needed. She is an inaugural winner of the Walter Dean Myers Grant 2015, awarded by We Need Diverse Books. Her award-winning, acclaimed debut novel, The Hate U Give, is a #1 New York Timesbestseller and major motion picture from Fox 2000, starring Amandla Stenberg and directed by George Tillman, Jr. Her second novel, On the Come Up, is on sale now. (angiethomas.com)