I admit I saw only one and a quarter of the eight films nominated for Best Picture for the 2019 Academy Awards, but having recently seen The Hate U Give, directed by George Tillman Jr., I’m surprised it didn’t receive a mention—especially because Black Panther, Black KKKlansman and the winner, Green Book, received so much attention (perhaps as a result of the #OscarsSoWhite protest in previous years?)
When a friend told me she steered clear of the film because of the title, I was reminded of what the director said attracted him to the young adult novel by Angie Thomas on which the film was based: its title! Tillman, in the excellent DVD extras, said he immediately understood it as Tupac’s “Thug Life,” the acronym for “The Hate U Give Little Infants Fucks Everybody.” It inspired him to undertake the making of this film which addresses both obvious issues like racial profiling and police brutality, and more subtle things like code switching (more on this later) and claims by well-meaning allies (like the main character’s white boyfriend) of “color blindness.”
The Hate U Give was extremely well reviewed when it came out. It garnered awards from African American Film Critics Association, Alliance of Women Film Journalists, Black Reel Awards, American Film Festival, Broadcast Film Critics Association Awards and more with best performances for the amazing young actress Amandla Stenberg (Starr Carter), supporting actor Russell Hornsby (Maverick Carter), screenwriter [the late] Audry Wells, and director Tillman. The film also stars Common as a black police officer who finds himself admitting his own differing treatment of white people and people of color. “It’s complex,” he says to his niece Starr when she confronts him. An incident in the film had its real-life counterpart just a few days ago with the exoneration of the Sacramanto police officers who shot and killed unarmed 22-year-old Stephon Clark in March 2018.
When The Hate You Give opens, the camera pans through the front window of a neat, yet humble, house with peeling paint. A father is giving his daughter and son “The Talk.” He tells them in detail what to do if stopped by police: keep your hands visible (as he places his on the dining room table and instructs them do the same; follow all directions; answer questions; and “Don’t move too much because moving makes the police all nervous.” In the interviews featured in the DVD Extras, the actors and author all describe their experiences with getting “The Talk.” One described it as “a part of our culture.” That actor as a boy had taken three buses (starting at 5:30 a.m.) to get from his neighborhood to a private school, and declared getting and giving the talk can be “a matter of life and death.”
Another of the DVD extras explained Code Switching, a term I was not familiar with, and is a topic rarely addressed in the media. It was featured, with humor, in Boots Riley’s 2018 film, Sorry to Bother You, in which the hero gains financial success in telemarketing by using his “white voice.” In The Hate U Give, Starr and her brother live in Garden Heights but attend the all-white private school Williamson Prep. Starr struggles to be herself as she adjusts her language and behavior depending on whether she’s in the ’hood with her family or with her friends from school, including her boyfriend Chris. The conversation the two young people have about their relationship on Prom Night is one of the most enlightening in the film. Starr says, “If you don’t see my blackness, you don’t see me.”
I’m glad my DVD player is holding up so that I can take advantage of material besides the feature that the discs contain. In the case of The Hate U Give, the interviews and commentary by director, actors and author increased my pleasure and expanded my consciousness greatly. I recommend the film highly. In fact, I believe everyone, especially young people, should see it.