People all over the globe took a collective sigh of relief after Derek Chauvin was found guilty of murdering George Floyd. Too many times police officers have not been held accountable for killing people of color. Yesterday was a step in the right direction, but there is still a long way to go. To commemorate the occasion, I watched The Hate U Give as a reminder that we must continue standing up for justice and making sure those who abuse their power are held accountable.
The Hate U Give opens in a neighborhood flooded by warm light and music vibrating with its cheerful intensity. Glossing over homes that represent the many stories in the neighborhood, the audience's gaze is laid to rest on a window where Starr and her family are having “The Talk” about what to do during interactions with the police. The “look-in-the-random-window” approach can signify that this story could happen to anyone, but the story focuses on this particular life for a reason.
The audience soon discovers Starr is living a double life—she feels the need to act a certain way in her predominantly white high school, and switch to a different persona while in her Garden Heights neighborhood. As critic Monica Castillo points out, “To visually mirror the experience of switching between the worlds of Garden Heights and Williamson, the lighting and color of the scenes also change from warm, familiar tones (Garden Heights),” that remind her of family, “to washed out blue hues (Williamson),” that are almost sterile in comparison. Starr oscillates between two versions of herself, never feeling complete, but semi-satisfied by her ability to live separate lives.
Starr’s life is thrown into chaos when she witnesses the murder of her childhood best friend, Khalil, by police officers during a traffic stop. After difficult experiences during the aftermath of Khalil’s death with classmates at school and members of her community, she learns to use her voice in an attempt to shed light on police brutality and injustice.
The tragically intelligent way The Hate U Give shows police brutality is part of what makes this film so important. What happens to Khalil is rooted in very real accounts of racism and police brutality. In America, Sandra Bland was pulled over, arrested, imprisoned for failing to signal a lane change, similarly to how the officer in the movie used Khalil’s failed signal to pull him over. Later, Bland was later found hanging in her jail cell and many believe her death would have been avoided if not for the wrongful arrest.
In 2007, Khiel Coppin was killed by officers when his only “weapon” was a hairbrush. The similarities of The Hate U Give to real incidents of violence unfortunately only continue as the film progresses. Despite its dark themes and scenes, the film ultimately seems to be about light.
The audience is repeatedly told that Starr’s father named her Starr so that she could shine her light on the world. Starr eventually tells her and Khalil’s story, shining light on the truth of the situation, instead of succumbing to fear of retribution for speaking out. Starr shows us that we can’t just stand by and let these atrocities continue to happen. We need to support the movements that actively work towards real equality and ending police brutality.
While some might consider The Hate U Give to be heavy handed in its Black Lives Matter messaging, the hard calls to action seem necessary in this day and age. The Hate U Give premiered in 2018 and the book it was based on was published in 2017. These systemic problems have been prevalent for hundreds of years and continue to be major issues today. Yet, that doesn’t mean they always have to be a problem. Films like The Hate U Give encourage everyone to use their personal voices and act as allies to help stop systemic racism and police brutality.
The ending scene in The Hate U Give expertly parallels how the movie began. We see Starr as the camera pans away from the window, turning towards the bright light of her neighborhood while music plays, leaving the viewers hopeful for another day. While the world at the end of the film looks similar to when it began, we are left changed for the better.
Has The Hate U Give impacted you? How do you think your community can help stop police brutality and put an end to systemic racism?