In July 2013, organizers Alicia Garza, Patrisse Khan-Cullors and Opal Tometi, moved by the acquittal of the neighborhood vigilante who killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, created a hashtag that spawned a movement. #BlackLivesMatter forced the world to recognize the sanctity of Black breath, blood, and bone. Suddenly everyone was paying attention to the everyday struggles of Black people in the face of police terror and other violence.
In the new flick The Hate U Give (in theaters October 19), we see the impact of that violence and resistance up close. Starr Carter (Amandla Stenberg) is a Black 16-year-old whose two worlds collide after she witnesses a White police officer kill her friend, Khalil (Algee Smith).
Adapted from Angie Thomas’s best-selling book of the same name, the motion picture follows Carter as she evolves from a girl navigating the Black world of her neighborhood and the White world of her private school into an activist who is forced to find—and use—her voice to pursue justice for her people.
The YA read is as insightful as it is engaging, and there’s even more to discover at the theater, as director George Tillman, Jr. (known for Soul Food and Notorious), examines Carter’s universe in greater detail. Even the author admits she learned a lot about her work while making the film, which she executive-produced.
“I didn’t truly grasp how many layers and perspectives there were in the book until I discussed them with George,” she says. “He wanted to ensure that all the characters had their own motivations and felt whole. While the book and the movie are both from Starr’s perspective, talking with George helped me understand all of my other characters even more.”
For his part Tillman says the biggest challenge was narrowing the film’s focus.
“The book had so much good stuff,” he says. “Sometimes you have to try to embellish or find more story to help the screenplay; this was exactly the opposite.”
As for filmgoers, both Thomas and Tillman want them to leave the theater with a renewed urgency to engage in conversation, advocacy, and activism. Says Thomas, “I hope it fans the flames inside of them and encourages people to keep fighting the good fight.”