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Don’t Expect ‘The Hate U Give’ To Deliver Sanitized Storytelling Around Race

September 11, 2018
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The late rapper Tupac Shakur only saw 25 birthdays. However, during his short life, he came to understand the black experience in America, which he summed up as T.H.U.G.L.I.F.E, meaning, “The Hate U Give Little Infants F*cks Everybody.” This haunting perspective would influence Angie Thomas’ award-winning novel The Hate U Give, which is now a feature film.

Helmed by veteran director George Tillman Jr., Amandla Stenberg brings Thomas’ Starr to life in a heartbreaking and impactful portrayal that will surely shut down the naysayers who questioned her casting. At 16, Starr has many interests—she’s a sneakerhead, a starter on her school’s basketball team and an active member of her community, where her father Maverick (an outstanding Russell Hornsby) owns a corner store. However, in addition to the burdens of being a teen, Starr has trained herself to exist in between two worlds. She’s continuously code-switching and navigating her way through her white, upper-class prep school and the streets where she was raised.

Though she’s mastered being both versions of herself, Starr’s world shatters when she witnesses her childhood best friend, Khalil (Algee Smith), be gunned down by the police during a traffic stop. Though his character is killed not even 30 minutes into the film, Smith’s endlessly charismatic Khalil allows Starr to be her true self. In his presence, she no longer has to walk a tightrope between two worlds. The banter between Smith and Stenberg—though brief—was the stuff of which teenage love affairs are made. In the aftermath of Khalil’s murder, Starr must grapple with remaining silent. It’s something her loving but fearlessly protective mother, Lisa (Regina Hall), begs Starr to make a choice about: bear with the quiet or use her voice to speak for her fallen friend.

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