Editor’s Note: This article contains spoilers about ‘The Hate U Give’.
The Hate U Give comes from the Tupac lyric: “The Hate U Give Little Infants F***s Everybody” in which he is referring to the way black children are treated by white society growing up, which only ends up worsening everyone’s lives. The first letter of each word spells out Thug Life. To Khalil, the young black victim of police brutality in this story, this means, “What society give us as youth, it bites them in the ass when we wild out.” The title of this hugely critically-acclaimed book written by Angie Thomas by itself is immensely powerful (once you know what it means), which gives you an indication of how powerful, heart-wrenching and important this story is. The main character of the book and the movie is Starr Carter (played by Amandla Stenburg), who lives in a mostly black neighbourhood with her parents and two brothers. She and her brothers attend a predominantly white prep school. Starr has to change her entire demeanour and vocabulary depending on where she is and who she’s with. However, none of this seems to matter after she witnesses a white police officer shooting her childhood best friend, who was black and unarmed.
The movie opens with Maverick Carter (Russel Hornsby) giving his children the talk. No, not the ‘birds and bees’ talk, the talk about how to act if a cop pulls you over. It is a very poignant moment that sets up the rest of the movie extremely well. Hornsby portrays the reformed gang member who is also known as Big Mav so brilliantly. He told Vanity Fair that he drew on his own experience to get Angie Thomas’ character so spot on. Another character that the movie does justice to is Lisa Carter. Momma Carter is one of my favourite characters in the book, and Regina Hall does such a great job at bringing the character to life that Lisa actually became my favourite character in the movie.
In the movie, Starr and Khalil kiss a few minutes before the cop pulls them over. I have no idea why the director, George R R Tilman, added this in. It adds nothing to the story apart from another clip to go in the montage when Starr is talking to the Grand Jury. It makes Starr seem like a liar as she did not tell her boyfriend Chris about it.
I think the movie got the cop interaction wrong. In the book, Khalil asks Starr if she’s okay, the cop thinks Khalil is reaching for what the cop assumes is a gun (actually a hairbrush) and shoots him three times. Whereas in the movie, Khalil is holding the hairbrush, which seems more suspicious to the cop. In the entire encounter with the cop, Khalil is a lot more argumentative than he is in the book.
After it is revealed that the cop who killed Khalil is not being indicted, there is a huge protest outside City Hall. During the protest, Starr makes a speech that made me tear up when I read it. In the movie, the speech was so powerful that it sent shivers down my spine every time Stenburg shouted “Khalil lived!”
Towards the end of the book, Maverick revealed that he was ready to move to a safer neighbourhood. Lisa gets a promotion which allows them to buy a house in a nicer but still cosmopolitan area. Whereas the movie ends with the Carter family remaining in Garden Heights. I felt that Maverick lacked character development because of this change.
Where was DeVante? He is one of my favourite characters in the book because he has a full character development and arc. The director chose to take the character out of the story completely. In the book, DeVante asks Big Mav to help him leave the King Lords (the gang that controls half of Garden Heights). He stays at Starr’s aunt and uncle’s house where he forms a friendship with Chris who lives across the street. He gets beaten up by a bunch of King Lords before the protest and in the end, he decides to testify against King. Leaving out DeVante created a plot-hole as Seven takes Starr’s punishment for snitching in the form of a beating, but the King Lords also start the fire at Maverick’s store. This is also a punishment, which seems a bit over the top as Starr didn’t name anyone. DeVante is a very central character in the book; I don’t understand his exclusion from the screenplay.
Where were all the The Fresh Prince of Bel Air references? This iconic ’90s TV show is the common interest that brought Chris and Starr together. One of the main things I was looking forward to in the movie was hearing KJ Apa sing the show’s theme tune. However, in the movie, the only reference to the show is a poster on Starr’s bedroom wall. Chris and Starr’s relationship would have appeared stronger if they had included more references to what they shared.
The movie is almost as powerful as the book. My friend and I left the cinema feeling like we wanted to start a protest against police brutality. The fact that police brutality still happens is awful, but the fact that some police officers quite literally get away with murder is abhorrent. The movie instils this feeling in you just like the book does.
Another difference and a more controversial one is the difference in skin tone between the Starr of the novel and the Starr of the big screen. In the book, Starr is a dark-skinned black girl and she has two dark-skinned black parents. They cast Amandla Stenburg, who is a light-skinned black girl. Many people were not at all happy with this casting decision. The illustrator of the book cover, Debra Cartwright, said that the book cover is based on an illustration she’d done during the Freddie Gray protest which Angie Thomas saw on Instagram. Cartwright told Vulture, “I was hoping it would be a very brown-skinned actress because there are so little opportunities in these big movies for darker-skinned actresses.” The difference between the complexions of Stenburg and the character that Cartwright drew is stark. Angie Thomas tweeted that she loves the cast and told Essence, “Now the thing people don’t understand is that the authors don’t have control of the covers. So when I was given the cover I was told, ‘That’s the cover. You don’t have any say.’” This is a clear contradiction of what Cartwright said. You decide who you believe.
Stenburg attempted to defend her casting in an Instagram post in July. She wrote, “Do I aim to represent all black girls? Hell nah! Do I expect all black girls to feel represented by me? Absolutely not. We encompass a beautiful and expansive plethora of experiences, identities and shades and it would be ridiculous to assume that I should or could represent all of us.” She also referred to how she dropped out of the casting process for the role of Shuri in Black Panther by writing, “I’m not taking up space that doesn’t belong to me.” Most people think she should have done the same for The Hate U Give. In her post, she didn’t once address the difference in skin tones between her and Starr.
There aren’t enough well-known dark-skinned black actresses in Hollywood. Why is this? Colourism is rife in Hollywood. This role would have been the perfect opportunity to launch a young dark-skinned black actress’ career, instead, they cast an already successful mixed-race actress. Zendaya (another successful mixed-race actress) summed it up very well in an interview with Huffington Post: “I am Hollywood’s, I guess you could say, acceptable version of a black girl and that has to change.” Progress was made with Black Panther, but that progress needs to continue.
Overall, I think the movie rushed through the story and left out too many things out for it to be as good as the incredible book. However, I do think it does justice to the ‘Black Lives Matter Movement’ and it is definitely a movie that everyone should watch because of the message behind it.
The Hate U Give is out in cinemas everywhere now.
Buy the book here
Featured image via Hollywood Reporter