By: Megan Leung
To simply focus on how Amandla Stenberg was tremendously able to give yet another stunning, heart-wrenching, authentic performance, would, while reflecting the truth, be undermining the sheer brilliance of the story she was given to tell. 19-year-old Stenberg––flanked by almost equally striking performances by Regina Hall, Russell Hornsby, Anthony Mackie, and Common––portrays the main character in the film adaption of Angie Thomas’ debut novel, The Hate U Give. The story, whose title is a homage to late rapper Tupac Shakur’s “THUG LIFE” mantra, was turned into a motion picture a mere year and a half since it was first introduced to the shelves.
In both the book and the movie, which hit theaters October 5th, 16-year-old high schooler Starr Carter finds herself changing between two versions of her personality: the African American vernacular English speaking Starr, when at home in her lower-class neighborhood of Garden Heights, and the non-confrontational, agreeable, “proper” English speaking Starr, when attending her mainly white private high school, Williamson Prep. On the way home from a party Starr attends in Garden Heights, a white police officer pulls her and her childhood friend Khalil over, which leads to the unjust shooting and death of Khalil. Throughout the plot, Starr struggles to find her identity as a young adult and the strength to use her voice when it’s most critical, afraid of the consequences it may have in both her home and school lives.
Even with such a heavy topic to cover, Thomas is able to sprinkle moments of levity within the novel, depicting banter within Starr’s family, and finding humor in Starr and her boyfriend Chris’s cultural differences. Film director George Tillman Jr., and late screenwriter Audrey Wells, were able to translate these same pockets of humor to the big screen, adding laughs to the gasps, tears, and palpable anger heard and felt within the theater. Just as it should be, in the bright moments, the story is hilarious and heartwarming, and in the darker moments, it is powerful and poignant.
In its forthright and honest nature, it’s impossible to not well up with tears and break out into goosebumps several times. Thomas’ provoking story commands the audience’s emotions regardless of which medium of media one experiences the story through. The chilling portrayal of events that just seem plain perverse—but actually occur daily within America—acknowledge, humanize, and pay tribute to the numerous black men killed by the police. Thus, while didactic in essence, Thomas’ story avoids a preachy, detached feeling by delivering potent one-liners like, “I didn’t know a dead person could be charged with his own murder.”
Nonetheless, as with any paperback to motion picture adaptation, both minor and major changes to the storyline are made. Characters are cut, and compelling, influential moments are both withdrawn and added; even fans of the written story are in for a shock as they sit on the edge of their seat soaking in the action-packed climax of the movie. Unfortunately, however, the little over two-hour limit of a Hollywood film hindered many loose ends in the plot from being tied up. After Chris, a white privileged teen, earnestly exclaims to Starr, “I don’t see color,” she simply tells him that he doesn’t see her if he doesn’t see her “blackness.” Suddenly that issue is deemed resolved, and the two are back to embracing as if the words Chris uttered weren’t deeply troubling. Furthermore, Chris gets to see and understand much more of Starr’s world in the novel, exemplifying his efforts to actually witness and experience her culture and lifestyle.
Either way, the story is reflective of real-life issues, making it one that needs to be heard by everyone. On both paper and digital screen, Starr is brilliant, resilient, brave, and intelligent, but not impossibly fearless. For those deterred by cheesy romance, unlike many other Young Adult plots, The Hate U Give does not center around teen relationships. As a couple, Chris and Starr’s journey serves to complement and strengthen Thomas’ message, rather than to simply draw in readership. In her crafting of intricate character relationships, dynamic individuals, and a recreation of American society, Thomas does not sacrifice reality for the expectations of fiction. For people that may not understand what it’s like to live in the shoes of a minority, in the shoes of an African American in the United States, or in the shoes of someone who lives in a lower-class neighborhood, Thomas, Tillman, and Wells craft the story in a way that illuminates those facets of life.
In all, if not for the poignant relevancy of the story, go for the remarkable cast, for the commanding blend of humor and tragedy, or for the much needed minority representation on the big screen.