by Noémie Attia
The Hate U Give brings forward to great audiences crucial aspects of African American contemporary issues and activism. Ones that have always been talked about since Emmett Till’s assassination by a white man in 1955, which sparked the Civil Rights Movements in the United States. More than half a century later, it is still “the same story, just a different name. ” An innocent black man murdered and made guilty for his own death by a systemic racism that gives impunity to his white assassin.
The filmic adaptation of eponym Angie Thomas’ novel revolves around the perspective of Starr Carter, who swings daily between two versions of her, illustrating perfectly Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s concept of “The Two Nations of Black America”. The young African American woman, played by Amandla Stenberg, lives in Garden Heights, a mostly black neighbourhood affected by gang violence, but which she considers home. She goes to a private high school in Williamson where the great majority of the students are upper class white teenager. To “break the cycle” inherent to her neighbourhood (but induced by centuries of oppression) she has to adopt the codes of the historically oppressive group, which makes it hard for Starr to stay in touch with her home and her personality.
When she witnesses the murder of her childhood friend, Khalil, by a white policeman who mistook a hairbrush for a gun, the tear in Starr’s personality grows even bigger. She has to interpret the events in both of her life contexts, where she risks a lot (her reputation, her life). But she also has to speak up and in the countrywide movement of Black Lives Matter. She is at a turning point of her life—the teenage years—which is very relevant, regarding a topic that encompasses many paradoxes and grey areas. George Tillman Jr. depicts Starr’s coming of age and her interpretation of Tupac Shakur’s “T.H.U.G. L.I.F.E.” (The Hate U Give Little Infants Fucks Everything).
Tillman’s work is necessary: it brings up racism as a systemic process that perpetuates hatred cycles and that considers blackness as a weapon (in Garden Heights) or as a pitiful condition (in Williamson). The film takes the form of a regular drama, close-ups and violins included, but instills a deeply needed content to the genre. Between raising urban issues, intersectionnality (race and class are considered), the importance of social movement and the questioning of retaliation, The Hate U Give makes very clear points on the sensitive and complex racial issue in the US, adopting the perspective of black people and making them fully-fledged agents of the narrative.