(L to R) Amandla Stenberg, Russell Hornsby, Angie Thomas, Regina Hall, George Tillman Jr.
Photo: Ryan Theriot

The Hate U Give is a New York Times best-selling young adult novel by Angie Thomas that chronicles the life of Starr Carter, a 16-year-old who is from a poor, black neighborhood, but attends a fancy private school in the ‘burbs. One sad, fateful night, Starr’s best friend Khalil is shot and killed by a police officer. He was unarmed. And consequently, the image that was painted of Khalil was one of a thug or a criminal and it’s just not true.

This story is one that’s all too familiar these days. In fact, Thomas was inspired by the shooting of Oscar Grant, an unarmed black man who was shot and killed by BART Officer, Johannes Mehserle in Oakland, Calif. on New Years Day in 2009.

This best-seller, The Hate U Give is now a feature film, starring Regina Hall (Girls Trip), Issa Rae (Insecure), Amandla Stenberg (Everything, Everything), Russell Hornsby (Fences) and more, and is directed by the legendary, George Tillman Jr. (The Longest Ride, Men of Honor, Soul Food).

In an interview with The Root, Thomas spoke about the book’s reception when it came out and the film, “If you would’ve told me all of this two years ago, I would have not believed you. For so many people have to have taken to this story the way that they have and then and so many people came together to put together a phenomenal film the way they did; this is beyond my wildest dream by far!”

Sitting at a table with Tillman and Thomas, you could see their admiration was mutual and that working together allowed them to collaborate seamlessly. Tillman shared, “Angie was around the whole time we were doing the film. She was always always informing me and that’s how I like to do it as a director because I feel like she’s got such a strong piece of material and I just wanted to honor it.”

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Tillman immediately fell in love with the book from the first moment Angie’s main character, “Starr” is introduced. He said, “You don’t come across an authentic voice that’s original like that and feels like it’s really true and rings true.

Starr is played by Amandla Stenberg, who offers up such a strong representation of a young, black, woke woman, Stenberg tells The Root, “When I first read the book, I never felt so accurately represented by something because I don’t think we get, very often such fresh three dimensional portrayals of black women and girls.”

“To have a story in which you have this three dimensional character having to navigate these different environments, compromising herself, is something that I related to, having a very similar life experience of growing up in a lower income black community, but going to a white private school.”

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Stenberg continued sharing her experience in being Starr, “To see her by the end of the film, because of these traumatic events she has to find her voice, realize she doesn’t need to compromise herself in order to live authentically in the world, it’s such a beautiful story and in a way that’s just interconnected with how she experiences these events through her different communities, how different communities react to it; I think it’s a vivid and nuanced portrayal of these events in a way that creates empathy in people, hopefully.”

Photo: Ryan Theriot

Tillman added, “The movie kinda gives you an idea how individually we can participate and how we can create through dialogue by actually standing up for what you believe in, by protesting, by having a strong voice. All those messages looks at it from an individual standpoint and moving forward. The movie talks about race, but also how one can move beyond obstacles and how we can make a change. Audiences can see this and wonder how they can make a change.”

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That is why this book is a best-seller and has become a movie because it resonates. The story is one we’re all weary of, but need some type of resolution for. Art has always had a way of helping people to understand, process and mobilize around issues that effect marginalized groups. Angie Thomas hopes that her art has that same effect.

Thomas said, “I have a lot of people say, ‘Oh I love the book and I get it now,’ I’m like ok, so what are you doing about it?”

Thomas continued, “What’s frustrating is that it so often feels as if we still have to explain ourselves. Why should I have to explain me saying my life matters? Why do I even have to say that? Why don’t people get it?”

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In her frustration, Thomas continued, “Right now, we have an administration that does not value everyone the same way and as a black person, I have to be honest, it doesn’t surprise me. This is not new. It’s just out right now as we were talking about black lives and black lives mattering and I hope that eventually more people will understand.”

Thomas is hoping that between her book and this film that she’s planting a seed for the next generation. “I always think about these kids I write for and the kid that picks up my book today can be a politician with a Twitter account 20 years from now. I want to make sure that I plant a seed in them so when I’m in a retirement home, I’m not like, ‘Oh damn!’” Thomas laughed.

One of Thomas’ biggest goals is for people to be just as upset about police brutality as they are about books about police brutality. Currently, Thomas’ book is bring protested by police officers in South Carolina who believe that her book is anti-police curriculum.

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Thomas shared, “They tried to ban the book in Texas, but in Mississippi, they upheld it. That’s where I’m from. The kids there took a stand. There was one young lady 15-years-old and in Texas. She said, ‘No I love this book. This book is me.’ She went before the school board herself and got it put back on the shelves. So while they [protesting police officers] have what they have to say, these kids are going to speak up, speak out, and get louder. And if it gives them the strength to find their voice, then let all the drama be worth it.”

While many black people grow weary having to be the ones to educate the majority on racism and that we’re human just like them, this book, film, cast and crew all take on the job of educator, willingly, so that the people who don’t seem to understand why screaming, “Black Lives Matter” is only begging the world for humanity, not elevating black lives over any others.

Russell Hornsby, who plays Starr’s father, Meverick Carter said, “Let us find some way to help you understand that we cut, we bleed, that we love hard, that we work hard and that we love our children, we love our family and in that, you’ll gain some type of empathy for who we are and that in turn, changes the narrative. It’s a slow process. Getting to know people slowly rewires how you think and changes your interaction with black folks, people of color. It shows that we’re not criminal. It takes away your prejudice slowly.”

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It may be a grand claim to say that love is the answer, but isn’t it? Regina Hall said, “Love is incredible. I think that we, as a community, have to start with self-love first. When our own communities get tighter, when we take responsibility for our educational systems, watching our young people like Amandla have a voice and speak up, I think that changes things. When you’re effected, it galvanizes change.”