T.H.U.G. L.I.F.E – The Hate U Give Little Infants F*cks Everyone.
“When I was twelve, my parents had two talks with me. One was the usual birds and bees…The other talk was about what to do if a cop stopped me.”
This film starts off with a scene of the latter – where a black man tells his young children on what is expected of them when and if they’re pulled over by a police officer. A talk that echoes the cries of the Black Panther movement in the households of many black families trying to find their place within White America.
Hands on the dashboard.
No sudden jerking or movement.
Answer their questions directly.
We get introduced to the main character, Starr (played brilliantly by Amandla Stenberg), as a then 9-year old girl with her older half-brother and her toddler little brother.
The film then pans into Starr’s teenage years, as she gets exposed to people in her past, while narrating the memory of “the talk” that was given to her and her siblings when she was so young.
Adapted from the popular young adult novel by Angie Thomas, “The Hate U Give” permeates the imagery of life and death, and the realities of police brutality and racism in modern America.
Living a described “double life”, she spends her days equally in her home in Garden Heights, a predominantly poor, black neighbourhood and her prep school, Williamson, a wealthy and predominantly white environment. This “double life” is accentuated as a result of the contrasting desires of her parents, Maverick (played by Russell Hornsby), and Lisa (played by Regina Hall).
While in the walls of Williamson, Starr “doesn’t give anyone a reason to call her ghetto”, while she hates herself for doing so. As a result, she keeps her best friends, and white boyfriend Chris (played by K.J. Apa) at a safe distance where her two worlds would not collide. These worlds will however collide, after a melancholic and brief reunion and rekindling of friendship with her childhood best friend, Khalil (played by Algee Smith).
After an incident at a party the two attended together, Khalil offers to drive Starr home where he is pulled over by a white police officer at a traffic stop. In a tragic turn of events and misunderstandings, Khalil is shot dead by the police officer. What started as a reunion so sweet and pure with the promise of a future where their lives may cross paths again, plays to the devastation that followed. From high school rom-com to a horror scene real quick.
The impending trial, Starr’s testimony, and her perceptions at school all become one in a spotlight brighter than any future her parents could have wanted for her. As the news of Khalil’s murder is broadcast on a national scale, Starr’s internal struggles of who she is, versus who she is expected to portray come at a clash – risking exposure and expunging herself from the coziness of her life. The ongoing debates throughout the film help to illuminate conversations that have started, and ones that need to be further engaged.
In a year cinematic activism has shined throughout, The Hate U Give ticks all of the check-boxes we as viewers want to see, and also creates new check-boxes as a benchmark for future films. Stenberg’s amazing performance really sings to the audience, and Hollywood. A star(r) is born.
“That’s the hate they’re giving us, baby, a system designed against us. That’s Thug Life.”