Tuesday, December 25, 2018

The Hate U Give written by Audrey Wells

The Hate U Give
written by Audrey Wells
directed by George Tillman Jr.
Based the YA novel of the same name
© 2017 by Angie Thomas
Harper Collins
ISBN 978-0-06-249853-3


The Hate U Give is an adaptation of Angie Thomas' best selling YA novel of the same name. The title is shortened from the source for an acronym, THUG LIFE, coined by the rapper Tupac, which stands for “The hate U give little infants fucks everyone.” The novel was begun as a response to the shootings of Oscar Grant, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Mike Brown, etc. (How dispiriting that such at sentence can end with “etc.”) I hope you will find The Hate U Give as challenging as I have and accept its challenge to seek answers for this question: “What is wrong with us that we need a movie like THUG?”

Even though the story is straightforward, the life of its heroine, Starr Carter, is complicated. She's the daughter of an ex-con and former gangbanger, Maverick Carter and a nurse, Lisa Carter. Her parents have enrolled Starr and her two siblings in Williamson, a suburban, virtually all white, prep school where they hope to educate their children out of Garden Heights. This hope means that everyday Starr must flip her personas back and forth between her black Garden Heights neighborhood and her white Williamson prep school.

The movie begins with a voiceover of Starr describing her discomfort with these necessary personality flips. However, this is not a sentimental movie “I remember mama” voiceover; it is an introduction to a tragic story told in the voice of an 18-year-old who is still processing the trauma of her 16th spring. As her narration proceeds it bleeds into a flashback of their father, Maverick, giving 10-year-old Starr and her 12-year-old brother "The Talk" (instructions on how people of color, must behave for the police during routine traffic stops) and we realize that this movie is not going to be a Hollywoody coming-of-age story. As surely as the gun in the first paragraph of a short story will be used before the last one, this flashback lets us know we will soon see a routine traffic stop fulfill the implied tragic promise of “The Talk.”

The movie led me to read the book because Starr has another flashback this one of a drive-by shooting of a childhood friend she witnessed when much younger. A stray bullet kills her playmate, part of the random violence of the neighborhood. This incident went by so rapidly in the movie that I missed the playmate’s name and became uncomfortable with that anonymity. I got the book from the library to find out and by the time I discovered the friend’s named was Natasha I was so involved in the new details of the novel that I had to finish it.

The Hate U Give in both media entertains as a tragedy of our culture, which is to say both claim our attention to inform us in a way that the nightly news cannot. When, during a routine traffic stop, a White cop shoots her unarmed childhood friend, Khalil while Starr watches and then holds him while he dies, The Hate U Give by association frees the deaths of Oscar Grant, Tamar Rice, Mike Brown, Sandra Bland and a myriad of others from the abstraction they have on the news and gives them an urgent presence. Khalil’s death and Starr’s response to it demand our empathy and provoke a catharsis as theater and other narrative arts have since Aristotle.

The two works complement each other. The young adult novel has five sections and 26 chapters covering the 13 weeks between the murder of Khalil and the grand jury decision not to indict the cop. Each chapter is a coherent scene so that the movie follows the book with minimal modification. What the book gives us that the movie cannot are details of the lives, the families and the community of Garden Heights. What the movie gives us that the book can't is the emotional immediacy of the shootings and deaths. So I recommend them both because they expose us to our cultural ignorance and to the consequences of that ignorance while encouraging us in our remediation.

Racism is a spectrum disorder; out on the right end of that spectrum, we have David Duke, Steve Bannon and Republican strategies to stay in power; out on the left we have biracial couples (the fastest growing demographic in the country) and a human desire to replace politics with a commitment to care for each other. The rest of us us are in the middle and, I hope, trying to grow toward the left. The Hate U Give provides us with an entertainment to nourish that growth. It educates us about a community of which, if we are honest white folks, we know little. This movie and book will help you stop wasting energy on any defensive need to declare, “I’m not racist!” It will free up that energy so you can use it to grow.

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