‘The Hate U Give’ – A true reflection of the realities of police violence?

Lauren – GSAL Alumna (2019 Leaver)

Editor’s Note: Former student Lauren (2019 Leaver) was an editorial member of Salutaris, the Sixth Form academic journal, during her time at GSAL. This challenging yet deeply thought-provoking essay was originally published in Salutaris 2019, a project led by Mrs Gray, E-Learning Designer. Angie Thomas’ novel ‘The Hate u Give‘ has previously been reviewed in The GSAL Journal by Ben (Year 9), and the official film trailer can be viewed at the bottom of this page. CPD

‘The Hate U Give’ film, based on Angie Thomas’ novel and directed by George Tillman Jr, focuses on vulnerable teenager Starr, whose life is transformed when her childhood best friend Khalil is shot in what is considered as a routine occurrence in African-American communities[1]. Does the film fantasise such brutalities in an aim to be a blockbuster bestseller, or are the scenes a true image of the pain that so many African-Americans suffer on a daily basis? The novel itself was on the New York Times YA best-seller list for 79 weeks[2] and Abigail Brown pinned the film as “a riveting yet heartbreaking representation of the realities many African-Americans face in current society”[3], but does it really live up to these ratings? 

Although ‘The Hate U Give’ is not directly based on one particular shooting of an African-American civilian by the police, Thomas’ story was seen to be influenced by a range of different shootings, including that of Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown among others[4]. Therefore ‘The Hate U Give’ can be considered as a broad display of the picture of police violence in the USA, rather than a view of one shooting in isolation. This helps to present a truer reflection of the realities of police violence as emotions are fuelled into a protest against such racially motivated incidents, considering the broad context affecting Angie Thomas at the time she was writing. As well as these broad experiences helping to inform Thomas’ story, there are also many signs that much of this was to do with the death of Oscar Grant in 2009. Thomas wrote the book while she was in college around the time that 22-year-old Oscar Grant was killed by an Oakland police officer on New Year’s Day in 2009 [2].  “In my anger and frustration, I wrote a short story about a boy named Khalil who was a lot like Oscar and a girl named Starr who was a lot like me” she commented, showing how much of her emotional reaction to this death was conveyed into the story line. 

Tillman himself also put in much necessary effort to increasing the relatability of the feature film. The LA Times wrote that the complexity and emotional implications of the subject matter meant Tillman went to great efforts in order to add more truth to the movie rather than it being a purely abstract concept [5]. “I wanted to make a film where everyone, all age ranges, can really enjoy the film, but … I knew it has to feel authentic in terms of young people” he commented [6]. Whilst clearly this seems to be a hard balance for George Tillman to strike, the fact he was seen to put so much effort into the realism of the film and draw from his own personal experiences meant that the movie could be considered as like that of many other police shootings that affect African-Americans. Catrin Osborne even goes as far as arguing that “Tilman Jr. constantly reminds the audience that the narrative is only somewhat fictitious, stepping beyond entertainment into a call-of-action”[6]. This comment on the consistency of such realism does seem a stretch too far, as there are times where the narration draws away from the emotional trauma of the police violence; however, such modifications are arguably necessary in order to maintain the entertainment value of the film. Steve Rose from The Guardian also commented on the influence that Philando Castille’s death had on Tillman’s production process. As Castille’s death came halfway through the production of the film, the reactions that they were feeling at this time could be fuelled more into the film[4]. Tillman also reportedly went to the lengths of contacting the families of Eric Garner and Sandra Bland who had tragically also lost their lives. By directly contacting the families and communities that were affected it helped enhance the realism of the film as Starr and Khalil’s families’ reactions were based on some substance and the audience could really witness the grief that was apparent in the actors.

As the actors themselves were carefully chosen to reflect the passion of the Black Lives Matter movement, this also helps to enhance the realism behind it. Russell Hornby, who plays Starr’s dad in the film, told the public how he felt “there was a sense of a burden to tell this story, and I think honestly, that’s just being a black man in America”[7]. This comment particularly seems to sum up well the emotion and connection felt by the actors to the cause which helped to add genuineness to the movie, as the cast were really stimulated and engaged with the topic rather than being distanced from it. Amanda Stenberg, who plays Starr, also commented on the release of the film that “I had this understanding the whole time that this was real. Even though I personally have never experienced losing someone to police brutality, I understand it’s something real, and within black communities we feel the pain of that institutional racism”[4]. So whilst the film can’t be considered as a complete representation of the police violence in the fact that the cast haven’t directly experienced loss as a result of shootings by the police, ultimately the emotions that they felt from encountering this violence on the news added to the emotional and raw picture presented within ‘The Hate U Give’. 

The title itself also presents more of a reflection of police shootings in the USA. The film takes its title and central philosophy from a concept by Tupac Shakur who had “THUG LIFE” tattooed in capital letters on his torso. It actually stands for “The Hate U Give Little Infants Effs Everybody”[1]. As the phrase has become an acronym for a vicious cycle of societal violence, it suggests that police violence is reinforcing and is becoming entrenched in society. By the movie drawing on this idea in its title, it adds to the anger felt by the African-Americans and others, as lessons are yet to be learned on the harmful damage that the conflict between police and coloured people is having on society. 

Further to this, the educational value to the film is very apparent.  As one of the film’s purposes is to inform the young audience about the shootings that are taking place by police on virtually a daily basis, it adds some truth to the film, as it is being used to teach students about what is going on in society, and thus must say close to reality. Reportedly the novel has been taught in certain high schools – but was, however, banned in one Texas school district [2]. By the movie being prescribed to students in this way it conveys a sense of the academic worth of the piece, suggesting that it really teaches people something meaningful about what is taking place with regards to police violence, rather than it simply being a light entertaining watch. Compounding this, the objection to teach such work in one Texas school district actually reinforces the realism of the feature film rather than opposing it. As Texas has generally been considered as more of an inherently racist state, the district’s objection could explain the discomfort felt with the movie as it is such a real and true, damning representation of racist police officers in the USA. These schools may therefore be too scared to teach the film to their students, as the raw nature of the truth it presents risks the issues of racism being exposed to the youth. 

However, this being said, the modifications that were made to both the book and film in order to make it viewable meant that the reality of such violence is distorted somewhat. In order to classify the film as PG-13 and make it accessible to a wide audience, lots of edits had to be made to the film that arguably took away some of the raw emotion and realism within it. Yet, ‘The Hate U Give’ was still able to include two instances of the F-word, the Motion Picture Association of America’s most penalised curse word in a rare occurrence for film classifications [1]. As M.P.A.A realised that the film was using expletives in order to educate and inform the young audience of the realities of police violence that is targeted towards African-Americans, allowing some expletives helped to maintain the rawness of emotion within the movie and thus increase its realism. 

Adding to this, many critics can see how the film is in some ways sensationalised in order to attract a teenage audience. By focusing on the popularity of the Black Lives Matter movement, it somewhat draws away from some of the real issues with police violence – such as the flawed court system in the USA which fails to indict cops enough – as all of the focus is placed onto the large crowds at the protests, rather than drawing more of an emphasis on what is really at fault within society. The film can also be seen as romanticised in its somewhat overly lengthy focus on the forming relationship between Starr and Chris, similar to many other typical teenage movies. By drawing on this too much it almost goes as far as suggesting that despite all the violence taking place, Starr is in a comfortable situation through having a boyfriend to comfort her. Yet, in reality, experiences of those who have lost someone to police violence are usually a lot worse than the film makes out, and there is actually a lot more emotional turmoil involved – far from it being an idealised experience. 

So, in summary, overall ‘The Hate U Give’ seems to accurately reflect the harsh realities of police violence in African-American communities across the USA. Despite the restrictions placed on its presentation as a film, ‘The Hate U Give’ is still able to present what is sadly true for many African-Americans across the USA – the experience of losing someone to an abrupt end because of the police officers’ selfish actions. 

‘The Hate U Give’ acts a harsh but effective reminder that the brutal realities of police violence targeted towards African-Americans won’t vanish any time soon. The feelings of sadness and anger are more real now than they have ever been, and such shootings aren’t taking place in isolation but can be seen in every community, as morals are stripped away and ‘The Hate U Give Little Infants Effs Everybody’. 

‘The Hate U Give’ was released on the 5th of October 2018 in the USA and was available on Amazon from the 18th of February 2019[8]



[1] Kyle Buchanan, New York Times, 18th October 2018

[2] Tatiana Tenreyro, Bustle, 4th October 2018

[3] Abigail Brown, 4th December 2018, The Syrinx

[4] Steve Rose, The Guardian, 19th October 2018

[5] LA Times, 19th December 2018

[6] Catrin Osborne, Redbrick, 16th December 2018

[7] Matt Grobar, Deadline, 10th January 2019

[8] https://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Hate-U-Give-DVD/dp/B07JC9C3NP (accessed 22/01/19)

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