Friday, December 7, 2018

The Hate U Give

Author Angie Thomas

Director George Tillman with Angie Thomas

THE HATE U GIVE              B+                   
USA  (133 mi)  2018  ‘Scope d:  George Tillman    Official Facebook   
If you don’t see my blackness, you don’t see me. 
―Starr (Amandla Sternberg)

Unlike Ryan Coogler’s Fruitvale Station (2013) or Sabaah Folayan and Damon Davis’ Whose Streets? (2017), both adult films based on real-life circumstances, this film offers a different perspective of similar events, telling the story from the perspective of a young black high school student, which in many ways opens the film up to a different audience, as it’s a coming-of-age film with a social message, intentionally targeting younger kids, purposefully empathizing with their youthful perspective, much like the immensely appealing S.E. Hinton novels that led to adolescent films like RUMBLE FISH (1983) or THE OUTSIDERS (1983). While Hinton was attracted to white youth living on the other side of the tracks, coming from impoverished lives, largely viewed by mainstream society as white trash, yet she broadens the audience perspective by humanizing the characters, giving them a taste of what it means to live in their shoes, Tillman does the same in this film, showing us the difficulties of growing up black in poor neighborhoods yet going to school in a largely affluent white neighborhood that completely excludes everything that you embrace in terms of cultural identity, having to hide who you are to avoid standing out, as you want a normal existence as much as possible instead of being stereotyped as the token “black” kid from the ghetto.  Adapted from an award-winning young adult novel by Angie Thomas from Jackson, Mississippi, inspired by gun violence and police brutality, connecting the younger generation of black youth to the Black Lives Matter movement and the shooting of Oscar Grant, but also the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, Tamir Rice, or Sandra Bland, where the prevailing theme is an unending stream of unarmed black youth killed by police, with little or no consequences exhibited to change the behavior of police culture.  Despite the awards and accolades, remaining on the New York Times bestseller list since its release in February 2017, most of it at #1, the book was challenged by the Fraternal Order of police in Charleston County, South Carolina for its inclusion on the high school summer reading list for college bound students, describing the book as “almost an indoctrination of distrust of police and we’ve got to put a stop to that,” (South Carolina police object to high-school reading list | Books | The ...), causing some to wonder whether challenging book content is the official business of the police and police unions.  The obvious counter argument is asking police and their unions why they distrust people of color, all across the country, as they are treated significantly differently when apprehended by police than whites in similar circumstances, where the color of their skin is viewed as criminalizing.  Another challenge took place in Katy, Texas when a parent filed a complaint, removing the book from the library shelves, which led a 15-year old student Ny’Shira A. Lundy to express her outrage (How I Became a Lit Activist: A 5-Step Guide), starting a petition drive and writing a letter to the school superintendent, “this book might be a great tool for the Katy ISD school district.  It can bring about unity and understanding among the different races in your middle and high schools.  By placing the book back on the shelf it also gives the children a choice,” which helped get the book returned to the library shelves.  

While the overall view can veer into melodrama near the end when it tries to enlarge the subject matter, the film is at its best when it remains small and compact, offering the personal experience of 16-year old Starr (Amandla Sternberg), who narrates her own inner thoughts throughout, with the film beginning at a younger age when Starr is just 9-years old and her older brother Sekani is just ten, both are receiving “The Talk” from their father Maverick Carter (Russell Hornsby), instructing them what to do when stopped by the police, providing them with a coherent 10-point plan (10 Rules of Survival if Stopped by the Police | Talk Back | PBS), a fact of life in black families, where young black males are 21 times more likely to be shot dead than their white counterparts (Deadly Force, in Black and White — ProPublica).  Because of this reality, Maverick, who owns a local grocery store, is determined to be a positive role model, while her more protective mother (Regina Hall) will do anything to protect the family.  Shot in and around Atlanta, Georgia, the film fictionalizes a Garden Heights neighborhood where Starr’s family lives while attending high school at Williamson Prep, a predominately white private school, describing her neighborhood school as a place where “you go to get drunk, high, pregnant, or killed.”  While her white fellow classmates routinely appropriate black slang, clothing, and culture, she comes across as non-confrontational as possible to avoid being stereotyped.  “Slang makes them look cool, but it makes me look hood.”  Carefully learning to exist in each world, she becomes “Normal Starr” at home and “Starr Version 2” at school.  Part of the film’s revelations is expressing this double consciousness, where being black requires straddling both worlds, having more than one identity, something whites never give any thought to.  Starr has a white boyfriend at school, Chris (A.J. Apa), largely because he makes her laugh and feel comfortable, and two best friends, Hailey (Sabrina Carpenter) and Maya (Megan Lawless), but she’s really something of a tomboy, wearing sneakers wherever she goes, even to parties, where she happens to meet up with an old childhood friend, Khalil (Algee Smith), who drives her home after a fight breaks out at the party, stopping to chat, listen to music, 2pac-Tupac All Eyez On Me - YouTube (5:07), and talk about Tupac, with Khalil suggesting his music and message are even more relevant today, where “Thug Life” is an acronym for “The Hate U Give Little Infants F*cks Everybody,” as violence only leads to more violence, and brutality breeds an ever intensifying brutality, which instantly becomes the prevailing theme of the movie, something to the effect of learning how to stand up for yourself, by any means necessary, and reshape who you are more harmoniously than the divisionary violence and hatred that seems targeted towards black America, where power is concentrated in the hands of the 1%, who will selfishly do all they can to protect their interests, with corporations refusing to pay their fair share, where worker exploitation is the norm, resulting in a more divided society fractured by class and racial differences.  

Almost instantaneously, Khalil and Starr are pulled over by the police, with Starr following the protocol while Khalil is pulled out of the car while the police return to their vehicle to check his ID, but when returning back, the cop mistakes Khalil’s hairbrush for a gun, resulting in shots fired, ending up with Khalil lying on the ground.  Starr freaks out and is immediately handcuffed, preventing her from offering assistance while she watches her friend die.  Taken to the police station afterwards, cops immediately start questioning her about Khalil selling drugs, honing in exclusively on that angle, where there is no interest whatsoever in eliciting the truth, never once asking her about the cop that killed her friend.  Rattled beyond belief, she is eventually escorted out of there by her Uncle Carlos (Common), brother to her mother, and a cop at the station.  Starr’s mother doesn’t want a word of this leaking out, as it will only complicate and endanger her daughter’s life, as she is the only eye witness to the killing.  Many years earlier, Starr’s best friend was shot from bullet crossfire in a gangland shooting, which is why her family is sending her to a better school, but this becomes her second childhood friend shot and killed in her neighborhood.  When kids walk out of class in support of Khalil carrying Black Lives Matter signs, protesting in support of the victim of another racially charged police shooting, it’s really just an excuse to get out of class, as these kids haven’t a clue who Khalil was in real life.  Later, the television news reports paint Khalil as a gangbanger and a thug, a King Lord operative for the local gang leader (Anthony Mackie), where he fits the profile of a budding criminal.  When painted in this light, it’s almost excusable for the cop to shoot him, as he was a kid up to no good, which are almost the exact same words her friend Hailey uses when telling her the kid deserved to die.  Erupting in anger at this stereotyped ignorance, where the one innocently killed is actually portrayed as the aggressor, Starr has had enough, feeling overwhelmed by it all, as no one is holding the killer accountable.  Confused and disappointed, pulled apart by opposing worldviews, Starr begins to understand that remaining silent is synonymous with accepting an innocent teenager's death as normalcy in today’s era.  Deciding to speak up, finally, she slowly gains her voice, initially hesitant, but driven by a desire to seek justice, she cooperates with a grand jury and agrees to testify, but the system fails to indict the officer, allowing him to escape scot free.  All that’s left are the streets, joining the Black Lives Matter protests, which may seem like running into a brick wall of total apathy, as society’s not really concerned with delivering justice, not for the killing of a teenage black kid, not in this town, and not on this day.  While the overall performances are all strong, with Sternberg a bright new face onscreen, it’s actually refreshing to get an unsanitized version of what’s happening in today’s world, told from a black perspective, in an emotionally compelling and easily relatable coming-of-age tale of adolescence where all Starr really wants is to just have a normal life, like anyone else, quickly discovering that’s simply not an option for black kids in today’s America.  One of the few films to get it right showing what it’s like growing up black, instilling values that are far different than being raised white, this is a modern era counterpart to John Hughes’ depiction of a safer lily-white suburban world in SIXTEEN CANDLES (1984), told from a black perspective, where white concerns about Mollie Ringwald’s geeky embarrassment and being continually misunderstood are replaced by more dire concerns about being murdered.    

To underscore the significance of this film, here are a few wrenchingly honest responses from several teenage girls who watched the movie in Atlanta where the film was shot.  

VOX ATL Teens Give Personal Reflections on 'The Hate U Give' Movie ...   Vox Teen Staff October 19, 2018

On October 3, the Regal Atlantic Station 16 held a press screening “The Hate U Give.” I was lucky enough to attend, and I must say that it changed my life. As I watched, I found myself clapping, yelling, laughing, and crying. The film tackles so many social issues such as racism, police brutality, and gun violence. These are quite obvious to identify and relate to. I really resonated with the main character, Starr, and her background. Starr is a 16-year-old girl who lives in a black neighborhood but attends a private school with a small number of students who look like her.

While the private school I attend definitely has more black kids than the fictional one Starr goes to, I still relate to the inner struggles she faces balancing her school version and her neighborhood version. Throughout elementary school and middle school, I often found myself switching in and out of my school facade. I changed the way I spoke and how I carried myself. As I got older, it got harder and harder to separate the two different Lexies. I was terrified to be called ghetto at school and was absolutely crushed when I got called “the Oreo” at church. I began to question who I really was. I never wanted to turn away from my race. I’m proud to be a black girl. However, I didn’t want to feel forced to change my behavior while with my friends from outside of school. Starr feels the same way I did. One day, I came to the realization that I didn’t have to be a chameleon that changes, based on my surroundings. I can just be Lexi. I’m comfortable in my own skin no matter where I go. Now, I speak clearly not because I’m trying to fit in. That’s just how I talk. I don’t feel forced to speak in ebonics. If I want to, I will, and I don’t care how anyone feels about it.

Because of a different and more tragic series of events, Starr comes to the same realization as I once did. She becomes only one version of herself which is composed of her school personality and her Garden Heights personality. Her character truly inspires me to be even more unapologetic than I was before. Not only does Starr become a black girl who changes for no one, but she also contains an immense amount of power. She finally recognizes her worth. After watching the movie, I’ve realized my power as well. I’m not only further inspired to be myself, but I also want to use my identity to make an impact. I will speak my mind and use my voice to change the world just like Starr did.

People of all different races, ages, and genders should take the time to see “The Hate U Give.” No matter which of the many messages you receive by watching it, you will be changed by the experience. 

Lexi Rogers, 15, attends Woodward Academy and is a roller coaster enthusiast!

“The Hate U Give” is the most funny, painful, exciting and emotional movie you will watch in 2018, from Amandla Stenberg’s powerful performance to the amazing message behind it all. The story follows the life of young 16-year-old Starr Carter (played by Stenberg) who leads a double life. Starr lives in a poor, blighted, black neighborhood. In contrast, she goes to a predominantly white private school. She lives a pretty normal life, with her mom, dad, younger brother and half-brother (played by Regina Hall, Russell Hornsby, TJ Wright, and Lamar Johnson respectively). But her whole life flips topsy-turvy when she bears witness to her childhood friend Khalil (Algee Smith) getting shot and killed by a cop that has pulled them over. Starr and Khalil are at a party when shots are popped off after a fight and Khalil and Starr go off in his car and drive away, not knowing what lies ahead for both of them. Khalil is killed because the officer thinks he has a gun when it’s really a hairbrush. During and after this scene, I could feel my eyes start to water and tears fall down my face. Angie Thomas, the novelist behind this incredible story wrote “The Hate U Give” for young black girls to know that their voices matter and that their lives matter.

With racially motivated crimes on the rise since 2016, we as people casually turn a blind eye to this and act as if the world is all sunshine and rainbows. Yes, we protest in the streets for justice and post on social media to get some type of word out. But are we really changing anything? If we see a crime committed, do we step up and give the police a statement? No, not all of us.  Some of us back down out of fear or cower because we don’t want to “get involved.”

But Starr finds the strength to stand up and fight for what she knows is right. Being caught between two very different communities can be very stressful, particularly for teenagers. Having to be one person in the day and a completely different one at night. By the end of the movie, Starr begins to learn it’s OK to be the same person you are in the dark and the light.

Rachel Springer, 14, attends The Sedulity School and is an aspiring traveler.

Before “The Hate U Give” press screening, VOX ATL got a chance to interview Angie Thomas, the author of the book the movie is based on and asked her what inspired her to write the best seller. She responded that it was for the young black boys in her neighborhood who felt that Trayvon Martin could’ve been them. It was also for the young black girls who felt torn between two worlds who had never felt represented in the media. The passion in her voice as she talked about it told me she genuinely meant every single word of it.

After seeing the film, I can confirm that not only Thomas but the entire cast put their entire heart and soul into every single part of this film.

I’m racking my brain of a way to describe the experience because this movie isn’t just a film, it’s an experience. One that I could only compare to that of seeing “Black Panther” for the first time. Of course, this time I traded out my finest of Wakandan threads for a dress adorned with social justice pins. The moods of the two film might be different but I’ll argue that “The Hate U Give” is just as much of a superhero movie as “Black Panther.”  If the former was the Blackest Celebration of the year then the latter is a collective therapy session for our culture.

“The Hate U Give” does an amazing job humanizing the struggle to be young and black in America right now. We see that even before Khalil is killed how Starr is already dealing with trauma. She’s 16 with the weight of the world on her shoulders. She doesn’t fit in anywhere — she’s too black for the white kids but too white for the black kids. There’s an internal struggle that she doesn’t let anyone see that’s hurting her.

After the death of Khalil, we see how she’s forced to grow up and make adult decisions. The way the media blames her for being black as the reasons that her friend got shot. The way she can’t even enjoy being around her boyfriend at prom because of the all the stress going on in her mind.

There’s an extra layer of realness to the story for Atlanta teens who watch this movie. While the book is set in the fictitious neighborhood of Garden Heights, the movie was filmed in Atlanta. For any seasoned ATLien, especially those who live in Zone 4 or have a 30310 zip code, the street names and buildings are going to be super familiar to you. That familiarity makes everything feel even more real because I know that Garden Heights is almost identical to the neighborhood I reside in. Every scene hurt because I saw myself on the same streets, and that very emotional fear added a whole other meaning to thinking “It could’ve been me who was shot on the streets.”

I want “The Hate U Give” to have the impact of “Black Panther.” It’s a not a celebration of blackness like “Black Panther” was, but in a way it is. For some, it’s going to be eye-opening and raw. For others, it’s going to be a healing session. But there is something in it for everyone and it’s something that everyone in America needs to experience.

Lyric Eschoe, 17, is homeschooled and wrote this reflection while listening to Janelle Monae’s “Dirty Computer” album.

T.H.U.G L.I.F.E, an acronym that stands for “The Hate U Give Little Infants F–ks Everybody,” a quote attributed to Tupac Shakur. The character Khalil Harris (Algee Smith) says this before he gets shot in the back twice by a white police officer. Even though the movie is fictional, it’s raw, teeth-clenching, and it has become one of my favorite films by far. I was very surprised that I didn’t shed one tear, because the film is a tear-jerker. One of my favorite scenes is when Starr Carter (Amandla Stenberg) stands up to her twisted friend Hailey (Sabrina Carpenter) when she says Khalil deserved to be killed. I feel like young teens live in a bubble that is either home or school. Starr has to “code switch” or live in a bubble that is either her Garden Heights neighborhood or Williamson, where she goes to school. Seeing the movie has changed the way I look through my so-called “bubble” that is eighth grade.

The crazy part is when you think about it, we as a community need this movie. It is crazy that we need a movie that depicts what happens out here in the real world for it to get peoples’ attention. Police brutality is very much a real thing, so why do we need a fictional representation of it for people to sit up and realize? Many will brush it under the rug, others will protest, but nothing has been done to solve this recurring issue. This movie makes me realize standing up for yourself is extremely important, no matter what the issue, the reaction, or outcome is. It shows me not everyone is going to accept you for who you are and that is totally OK. The last thing I got from this amazing film is that you do not need to change yourself or your personality to gain people’s approval and sticking together with the people who support you and understand you is important.

Brooklyn Williams, 13, a student at KIPP Strive Academy and thinks Spotify music is the best type of music.

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