The Hate U Give is a conversation starter if nothing else. So it is fitting that the film starts off with a conversation, the conversation that all black children receive that their white peers don’t. Maverick Carter (Russell Hornsby) is seen giving his three young children, Seven, Starr (Amandla Stenberg) and Sekani instructions on how to behave when in the presence of police. The children’s mother, Lisa Carter (Regina Hall) is visibly uncomfortable, but allows Maverick to continue the lesson. Most likely so when, not if, their children are questioned by officers they make it home alive.
The Carters live in a predominantly Black neighborhood but the children attend a nearly all white private school. Starr has no trouble fitting in, and at school becomes what she calls Starr version two. And back home in Garden Heights she’s just Starr, the true version of herself that she can’t be around her white friends at school.
Being able to navigate both worlds probably could be an entire movie all on its own. The Hate U Give starts out as a culture-clash story, about a young black woman navigating a world where privileged white kids, think nothing of using black slang just because they think it’s cool. But Starr refuses to use slang at school because, she explains in voice-over, “it makes me hood.” Black children at white schools often face the same internal conflict as Starr, can’t be too Black at school or too white at home.
I went to predominantly white middle and high school, so the internal battle Starr is having is real. Seeing it on the big screen brought back some memories and feelings that I haven’t felt since I graduated high school. Like most of us, that switch between Black and white spaces, Starr was a master at pretending and convincing her white classmates that she wasn’t that different.
Starr has an experience that her white classmates will most likely never have. After a fight breaks out at party in her neighborhood she leaves with her childhood friend Khalil (Algee Smith). The pair are headed home when an officer pulls them over. Starr remembers her fathers instructions and begs Khalil to do as she says.
It doesn’t seem like Kahlil has been schooled on how to handle himself in the presence of officers, the way Starr was. He’s trusting in his assumption that, since he hasn’t done anything wrong, everything will be okay. But everything was not okay in this scenario. Khalil is shot and killed right in front of Starr after reaching for his hairbrush. This is a scenario that we see in the United States way too often. An innocent, unarmed, Black man, woman, or child is murdered by a police officer who claims to have been in fear for their life. In many cases the person is holding a cell phone, toy gun, book, or nothing at all.
The pain and pure panic that Starr feels in that moment sent chills down my spine. The disbelief, terror and anger that is visible in her eyes and audible in her screams are hard to shake. The officer responds in the same way many officers do after killing an unarmed person. He tried to find a way to justify it.
The film follows Starr’s struggle with what to do after the shooting. She could become a public witness, but then the prep school version of herself will be gone for good.
The Hate U Give will stir up a lot of emotions, leave you breathless, and even make you uncomfortable at times, but it’s a powerful, and relevant story that needed to be told.