Race, Gender, and Policing in The Hate U Give
By Marisa Oritz
An emotional film describing the struggles of those involved in cases of police brutality, The Hate U Give, directed by George Tillman Jr., is an adaptation of the novel written by Angie Thomas. This film makes me eager to watch it over and over because of the message it conveys. It is centered around ideologies and stereotypes of African Americans in society and how the different communities react to certain events. This movie, just like all others, leaves people with different ways of viewing the world. It opens up a new door that gives them an understanding of how and why certain people act and react in that way. Others should be interested in this film because it is a moving and eye-opening story that makes you want to help make a difference in the world. While many films with a dominant black cast pose as “ghetto,” “lower-middle-class,” “violence,” etc., this film, in particular, conveys those adjectives, it does so in a different way. Yes, it shows what people think of when they hear “black community,” but the way the author, director, and producer made this film offers a new way of viewing it. The story, editing, sound design, and cinematography make this film’s message want to see a change in America. The Hate U Give demonstrates the meaning of difference, power, and discrimination by touching on topics of police brutality, white supremacy, African Americans in film, and women in film.
Starr, the main character, is a teenage African American girl who lives in a black community but goes to a dominantly white prep school. Her friends and boyfriend go to the same school and are white. Though back in her hometown, her childhood friend is a teenage African American boy. The storyline is centered around the tragic event of her childhood best friend dying due to police brutality. Starr starts to notice that her friends are not her friends, the cops will not do anything, and she has to make a hard decision about whether to testify in court or not. The gang’s correlation impacts this decision because the boy who died was a part of their crew. Starr takes her anger and frustration out on teaching the public that the way they are thinking and doing things is wrong and that all the fighting and violence needs to stop. Racism has always been an issue in America, but there has been more spotlight on the topic in the past few years. 2020 has had its share of events, and one of those events is the Black Lives Matter movement. This film demonstrates the power that cops have and how African Americans have witnessed or experienced criminal injustices. There has been an increase in protests and movements for creating equality. More and more police brutality cases have been rising from the past and present, demanding that the police who wrongfully harmed or killed those men and women be brought to justice. The film, The Hate U Give, shows and creates emotion like those who lived through a similar event themselves.
There are a few differences in the film that relate to the characters and their environment. There is a difference between privileged and unprivileged seen in different ways in the film. One instance in the movie is how Starr lives in a lower-class neighborhood, and she feels like she can not bring any of her white friends over because they will judge her or will not understand her home life. Later in the film, she allows her rich and privileged boyfriend to take her home from the dance, but he is in a limo (01:27:10-01:27:47). The film shows the limo pulling up to her house, and the viewers can see the difference between the two worlds or privileged and unprivileged. The difference between the lower-middle class and the upper-middle class is highly represented. One distinct difference has to do with Starr’s family situation compared to her African American Uncle. Her uncle lives in a lovely neighborhood where there are no gangs nearby compared to Starr’s dangerous neighborhood where gunshots can be heard at night. There is also the difference in lifestyle when comparing her life [Starr’s] to her school friends. Her friends have luxury items and houses, whereas Starr does not.
There are two forms of power in the film: white power and the power of the truth. White power comes from the dad of the cop who shot the innocent black male. The father and the news paint the picture as having the cop being the victim in the situation. He puts out a statement about him, his son, and his family to defend their title. He is trying to sway the public into believing that it was a horrible mistake saying how they are getting threats and backlash from the event. The news plays footage of black people doing gang-related activities, mentioning how crime in black neighborhoods has increased and how the police are there to help make it a safer place. White power also comes from the murderous cop himself because he was a white cop with reason to believe the black male had a weapon. Therefore after the jury understands that the cop had caused to fire at a supposedly black gang banger male they found the cop not guilty. This power theme seems to happen very often because people like to judge based on social stigmas and ideologies surrounding certain communities. Power in this film also comes from the main character, Starr. After seeing her friend get shot dead by the police, she now has the move to go to trial or stay silent and not become a target. Though, after countless interactions with certain people in her life, it becomes clear to her that some people just do not get it. Starr decides to use her voice and tries to get the police officer who killed her friend imprisoned. She also takes a stand against her so-called best friend after she countlessly makes remarks towards African Americans. Starr confronts Hailey after tension builds up throughout the movie and asks her why others who look like her come off as dangerous and threatening, but she does not (01:39:40-01:40:52). Starr makes a statement towards the police blockade at a street protest, and people follow her lead (01:50:38-01:52:26). Then towards the end of the movie, she steps in front of her little brother with a gun to protect him from getting shot at by the police because he is just a kid who is afraid of the violence. As Jessica King, a well-known movie critique from Variety, put it, “She is also glowingly emblematic of a new American generation unfairly tasked with solving social ills they had no hand in making, but of which they are overwhelmingly the victims” (par. 9). It is rare for films to have a young black female hold power in the movie, though it has become more common.
Discrimination is directly represented on the screen, though there could be some off-screen as well. When talking about on-screen, there is one character that seems to demonstrate discrimination and racism. Hailey, Starr’s school friend, makes comments about black people. Hailey makes remarks about how all black people are dangerous. She tells Starr how her friend who got shot was bound to happen because he was black, lived in “the hood,” and was facilitated in a gang. Hailey also tells Starr how she is not threatened by her because she is different from the others. Discrimination could have happened off-screen as well in terms of casting. According to Tianna Dowie-Chin, a researcher on black feminism, race, and ethnicity, wrote, “Black people with lighter skin are considered to be more employable and are employed at higher rates, incarcerated and disciplined in schools at lower rates, and possess higher representation in positions as corporate executives and government official” (par. 13). There is a high possibility that the black actors’ skin tone played a vital role in casting. The majority of the black cast, including the lead, is categorized as light skin rather than dark skin. While some may say that it does not matter because they are still black, it does matter. People are still being discriminated against based on the pigment of their skin color. The more whitewashed a person’s skin is, the higher chance they have of receiving better opportunities.
There are white supremacy issues, women in film, and African Americans represented in the film. Hailey in the movie represents white supremacy. Her character is white, wealthy, and privileged. Hailey’s persona acts like she is better than the people around her and does not care how her actions affect others. She makes multiple racist remarks towards black people. For example, she refers to “fried chicken” and says that black people are threatening society. After hearing the cop’s father talk on the news about how their family has been getting hateful comments, she also says she feels bad for them. As Stephy Monisha, a graduate from Stella Maris College, wrote, “The terrible reality is that Hailey does not feel any remorse for her white supremacist attitude, and even though she misuses her privileged position by passing racist comments, she accuses Starr of being sensitive” (p. 3994). Starr is not acting sensitive, but she is defending herself and her black community.
The women in this film are well represented, but it could have been better. The mother in the movie is shown as a strong support system for her kids, but she is much more in the book. According to Tianna Dowie-Chin, a Ph.D. candidate in Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Florida, “Rather than portraying Lisa as the successful black woman she was originally written as in the novel, the version of her presented in the film denies her role in her family, particularly her financial role” (par. 12). The novel shows the mother, Lisa, as a very successful black woman with a great job that helps support her family in a big way. In the film, that part of her is unknown, which degrades the importance of her character.
Just because this film represents the black community and a dominant black cast is shown, there are still details in the editing and cinematography that belittle them. There is also a common trait for black males in film, and that is that their characters usually end up with a lousy ending. According to Jeanette Convington, an Associate Professor of School of Arts and Sciences of Sociology, wrote, “The more savagely young black males were depicted in these films, the more moral license the criminal justice system required to arrest, imprison or kill off the dangerous black youth depicted on screen, even if it meant violating their rights in the process” (p. 64). The film does kill off a young black male that poses a threat to some people in the film. The film killed off this killer to make a point and not because it was the character’s fate. There also seems to be some noticeable edits during filming when the screen only showed black characters. For example, there are some shots in the film that when there are only black characters in the frame, the camera tends to be less stable and shakier compared to scenes with white characters (01:58:41-02:01:33). There also seems to be a trend throughout the film where many scenes involving Starr, her family, and other people in her black community are shot in the evening and night time. This results in darker lighting and gives a more suspenseful feeling. When Starr is at school or her friend’s house, they are shot during daytime and have more bright lighting (01:16:36-01:19:50). There are also shots of white actors with a camera angle looking up at them which codes as that white people are more important and powerful. An example of this is when Starr and her boyfriend, Chris, are at her locker talking and the camera looks up at Chris and eye-level for Starr (00:10:10-00:11:17). All of these issues are well exhibited throughout the film.
One aspect of this film that I focused on was the music. Music in films and shows can provide an emotional element of the event that is occurring. In this film, the music matches with the events and themes of the scenes. For example, during a party in Starr’s neighborhood, the people at the party were all African-American, drinking and dancing, so the music choice was hip/hop. The songs in this film came from artists such as Tupac, Kendrick Lamar, Pusha T, Logic, and others. In particular, though, two songs were made for the movie “The Hate U Give” by Bobby Sessions and “We Won’t Move” by Arlissa. According to Jon Burlingame, the nation’s leading writer for music in film, Bobby Sessions said, “I hope the song, along with the film, will inspire young people to find their voice, speak out, and have these uncomfortable conversations about what’s going on in our community, and hopefully motivate everyone to do something about it” (par. 8). This song is tied to the movie by having the same title and the message both outlets are trying to send to the audience. Arlissa’s song plays at the end of the movie and has compelling verses. According to Carita Rizzo, a writing and editing consultant and contractor, the song’s title’s message is saying, “We’re going to hold out ground, we’re going to remain peaceful but vigilant” (par. 4). The song itself conveys a message and emotion that has excellent chemistry with the scene of the movie. There is also instrumental music that is very strong for one particular scene. The song “The Cycle” by Dustin O’Halloran plays during the scene where Starr’s little brother is pointing their father’s gun at two gang members, and police show up to the scene. Starr realizes that her brother is very likely to be the next victim of police brutality in this event. The song has a slow tempo with a tone of sadness and worry that gives off a very emotional feel for the audience when viewing this scene. Without this particular music in this scene, the audience would not feel the same type of emotions. Music addition in scenes, whether with lyrics or without, gives off emotional appeals for the audience to connect with the storyline.
When I first watched this movie, it had me in tears and gave me the urge to get up and do something about America’s problem. Then when I first read this assignment, this movie immediately came to thought. The Hate U Give demonstrates America’s issues and that of difference, power, and discrimination. When this movie first came out in 2018, I did not know what I could do to eliminate the issue. Now, in 2020 there came an opportunity to show my support in the black community and the Black Lives Matter movement. I participated in peaceful protests at the Oregon capital and walked with thousands of people demanding equality. George Floyd’s murder was the last straw and sparked people to raise awareness of police brutality and racism in America. More and more cases from the past and present started to increase. Many more cases of police brutality came out of the shadows to expose corruption in society, much like in the movie with Starr’s friend and the police officers who killed him. People see a black male and suspect that he is up to no good. Judgment based on their race and sexuality is made before knowing the facts, which has led to a horrible ending for many. I would relate this film to the T.V. series 13 Reasons Why because both exhibit and bring to light difficult topics to talk about that but are in need to be talked about. 13 Reasons Why mentions drug abuse and addiction, suicide, sexual assault, homosexuality and sexuality, and bullying all are which issues in society and that of teenagers and young adults. Both The Hate U Give and 13 Reasons Why are meant to demonstrate to people how these issues are not something to talk about lightly and are significant problems for many people. Both want their viewers to see how these problems affect people differently and show that they are awful things to have to deal with, and those people should not have to go through that.
The Hate U Give demonstrates what many people of color have to go through and deal with in society. It brings emotion to viewers in ways that help you relate in a small way to how those who have experienced this issue go through. It is also a film that shows how societal beliefs and opinions of people of color affect how they are portrayed on screen through their editing and cinematography. The Hate U Give demonstrates through different film elements of difference, power, and discrimination issues presented both in reality and on film.
Burlingame, Jon. “Def jam to Release ‘The Hate U Give’ Soundtrack (EXCLUSIVE).” Variety. Web. 28 Sep. 2018. https://variety.com/2018/music/news/the-hate-u-give-soundtrack-def-jam-1202961188/. Accessed 17 Nov. 2020.
Covington, Jeanette. Crime and Racial Constructions : Cultural Misinformation about African Americans in Media and Academia, Lexington Books, 2010. ProQuest Ebook Central, https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/linnbenton-ebooks/detail.action?docID=500798. Accessed 17 Nov. 2020.
Dowie-Chin, Tianna, et al. “Whitewashing Through Film: How Educators Can Use Critical Race Media Literacy to Analyze Hollywood’s Adaptation of Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give.” International Journal of Multicultural Education, vol. 22, no. 2, 2020, p. 129+. Gale Academic OneFile, https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/A637123496/AONE?u=lbcc&sid=AONE&xid=60a35c76. Accessed 17 Nov. 2020.
Kiang, Jessica. “Film Review: ‘The Hate You Give’.” Variety. Web. 8 Sep. 2018. https://variety.com/2018/film/reviews/the-hate-u-give-review-1202933118/. Accessed 10 Nov. 2020.
Monisha, Stephy P. “‘Other’ Worlds Represented in Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give.” Journal of Critical Reviews 7.13 (2020), 3993-3995. Print. doi:10.31838/jcr.07.13.604
http://www.jcreview.com/fulltext/197-1599475602.pdf?1605653310. Accessed 17 Nov. 2020.
Rizzo, Carita.“‘The Hate U Give’: How Music Producers Created a Song to Amplify the Battle Against Racial Injustice.” The Hollywood Reporter. Web. 12 Dec. 2018. https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/hate-u-give-how-music-producers-created-films-final-song-1167901. Accessed 17 Nov. 2020.
The Hate U Give. Directed by George Tillman Jr., 20th Century Studios, 2018.