The Hate They Gave Us in the Box Office

I know. I have been TERRIBLE with my blog over the last few weeks. There are only so many excuses that I can give y’all. But I’m back—for real this time. Mostly, I couldn’t contain myself after seeing the film, The Hate U Give, based on the novel of the same name by Angie Thomas (which I read realier this year). I had to write about it to work out my own feelings. What did I feel, you may ask? Largely…

…unimpressed.

Some parts of the movie were great. Those were largely the parts that seemed most true to the book, which I thoroughly enjoyed. The plot of both the book and the film center around Starr, the young Black female protagonist whose life in both her “rough” neighborhood and he mostly-white prep school is turned upside down when she witnesses the shooting death of her childhood best friend, Khalil, at the hands of a police officer. However, the Starr of the book by Angie Thomas and the Starr of the film, brought to life by Amandla Stenberg, are very different Starrs. Many reviews are focusing on the surface-level differences between the two Starrs-namely the skin color. My issues are deeper than that. Amandla moves through the entire movie like she prepped for the role by watching Boyz in the Hood. She gels with her own family, for the most part, but her outing to a party in her neighborhood with her kinda-of step-sister (the half-sister of her half-brother, which is “hood” family) is cringe-worthy as a caricature of what “hood” people seem like to “the rest of us.” Learning that a white woman wrote the script made more sense to me than the fact that a Black man would have directed something so ridiculous. Starr leads by saying that she is two Starrs, one at school and one in her neighboorhood; I’m not sure that Amandla mastered either one.

The deeper issue is that every departure that the film made from the text of the novel seemed less about cutting it down to an adequate screen time, ensuring flow, and ramping up cinematic impact than it did filtering the story through the lense of the white woman who wrote it and for the white audience that the producers hoped would see it. I almost had an aneurism watching the introduction of Starr’s white boyfriend, Chris, who “thinks he’s Black,” even though he “doesn’t see color.” Not to mention the film’s dramatic climax involving Starr’s younger brother, which is a complete and total departure from the book and left me scratching my fucking scalp to the white meat. The writer undoubtedly thought that she was tying in the “theme” of the film, showing that “The Hate U Give Little Infants Fucks Everyone.” It played to me more like some distorted view of Black childhood, as if violence is ingrained in our very core. The book was written for Blsck youth by a Black woman; this script was written by a white woman, and, well, you know the rest.

I should stop to point out that some scenes stayed with me. The powerful moments were there, though buried under the layers of miscalculations and miscasting. The scene in which Khalil was shot is undoubtedly moving and strikes the viewer with how inhumane the situation was, regardless of whether the police officer truly thought he had a weapon or not (though, again, the film made the officer’s decision to shoot a closer call than the book, which shows to me, yet again, a strong desire to make it pallatable for a white audience). Futher, though it is a departure from the book, I did feel and understand the protective anger of the scene in which Starr’s father is handcuffed by police and then takes his children home and drills them on Black Panther 10-Point-Plan. Some people disliked the anger her father exuded in that scene, but those people probably also have never been slammed on the pavement and handcuffed and dehumanized in front of their children, without the power to protect or make sense of it.

Funnily, the scenes that were supposed to be imbued with drama left me wondering what was missing from the scenes that made them feel empty. Those include the face-off between Starr and her white best friend and one of the final scenes in which Starr gives a “motivational” speech at a protest following the grand-jury decision. I can’t figure out if it was the casting or the writing, but these scenes just didn’t do much for me.

The book was a must-read, in my opinion. I think the film is a must-see as well. We must see how not to let [other] people tell our stories.

-Dij

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