In 1955, it was Emmett Till, in 2014, Michael Brown, and in the 2018 movie, The Hate U Give, it’s Khalil Harris.
The Hate U Give, directed by George Tilman Jr, is based on the novel of the same name, written by Angie Thomas. So poignant was the story, that the screenplay was commissioned just a month after the rights of the book. Starting as a short story written by a then college student, the book was developed along with the screenplay after Angie was affected by the 2009 murder of Oscar Grant.
The movie follows Starr Carter (Amandla Stenberg), a black teenager who, in order to live a better life, attends an uptown school whilst still living in Garden Heights, a tough neighbourhood. Having to lead a double life to fit into both societies, she finds herself the only witness to the murder of her best friend. Like so many before him, Khalil (Algee Smith), a black teenager, is shot dead by a white police officer, having been pulled over for the most minor of offences. Starr then must decide whether to stay a silent witness, in order to keep the façade at school or to join the ever-growing protests throughout the city. Combined with the ‘snitch’ status against the city’s biggest drug lord, King (Anthony Mackie), Starr decides to fight for what she thinks is right.
Amandla Stenberg’s portrayal of Starr is so real it’s easy to forget that Khalil’s case isn’t one of the oh so many real news reports we hear from America. Behind her is an incredibly powerful ensemble, including Chris (KJ Apa), Starr’s white boyfriend who sticks by her throughout the movie, and Seven (Lamar Johnson), Starr’s older brother who can bring humour and fierceness within seconds of each other. A stellar performance must be mentioned for Russel Hornsby, who portrays Maverick, Starr’s father. Maverick, throughout the film, stands tall and unafraid of who he is.
The movie, although fiction, contains an essential truth about America today, found in the relevant lyrics of 2Pac’s ‘THUG LIFE’ – “The hate U give little infants fucks everyone.” The protests, deaths and criminal justice system all ring true with the often-daily news articles we receive from the USA. The film is well-timed and paced and, although 123 minutes long, flies past in what could be an hour. What’s important to note is how well the movie is also able to show the constant gang battles in areas like this. Although often reported by the news, a true account of events is never really shown, which this movie perhaps is the closest to.
To advocates of the Black Lives Matter campaign, it’s hard to work out whether the tears shed watching the movie are inspired by sadness or anger. With so much of America seeing the story through Hailey’s (Sabrina Carpenter) eyes; one of Starr’s wealthier friends, who is more than accommodating of the movement until it gets too close to home, it’s no wonder that despite the constant protests and riots, nothing very much has changed. So there is, perhaps, no better way to leave this than in the words of Starr herself: ‘How many of us all die before you get it?’
Image: Twentieth Century Fox