When the film “The Hate U Give” was wide-released in theaters on Oct. 9, I eagerly rushed to go see the adaptation of one of my favorite books, crossing my fingers that it would live up to the writings of Angie Thomas.
In both the book and the film, audiences follow the story of a teenager named Starr who witnessed one of her childhood friends, a young black man, shot and killed by a white police officer after a routine traffic stop. Her friend had reached into the car to grab a hairbrush when the officer mistook it for a gun and shot at him.
As the plot unfolds, Starr struggles between deciding whether or not to use her voice as the sole witness to fight for justice for her friend Khalil, which would compromise her safety in her area full of gang violence, poverty and crime. Khalil ignores practically every instruction black families give to their children when they receive “the talk” and it gets him killed.
The film does not serve as an escape. Instead, it holds up a mirror to today’s society in such a way that it feels like you are watching a news story unfold. It is almost as if Khalil becomes an actual black man in the long list of victims that we all know too well. At times it is almost too realistic. It is hard not to get absorbed in the life of Starr and imagine what you would do in her situation.
“The Hate U Give” examines common themes in a young black person’s life that include code-switching, the pressure to dispel stereotypes, avoid being called “ghetto,” black identity and pride and of course, “the talk.”
While many of the experiences Starr goes through are unique to one of a black teenager and the heightened situation of police brutality is not one everyone can relate to, the brilliance of Thomas is the way that she makes it relevant, real and relatable for all audiences in her book and the way George Tillman Jr., the director does so on-screen.
The film’s message is one of late great rapper Tupac Shakur’s sayings, “The Hate U Give Little Infants Fucks Everybody” or “THUG LIFE” and it’s repeated throughout the film.
In some ways, Thomas’s novel is a love letter to Tupac, who she has cited as her inspiration, along with the Black Lives Matter movement and black communities. Beyond that, I feel as if it is a love letter to the generation of us who grew up seeing videos of young black boys like Tamir Rice shot and killed all over our social media.
The generation who watched officer after officer not be indicted for killing black people all over the country. The generation who watched footage of Ferguson burning after the death of Mike Brown. The generation who cannot escape the unimaginable tragedy of police brutality today, whether it directly affects them or not.
The realism of it all is to combat the desensitization our generation has experienced in relation to the killings because of the sheer number of victims. After a while, it becomes natural to scroll past a picture of a young dead black boy on Instagram and move on about your day. Though the picture never fully leaves your mind, this film makes sure it never will.