Growing up as a person of color in the 21st century means living with a disclaimer. You can vote, but many of the politicians hate the very thought of you, you can legally attend any school you want to, but it doesn’t mean that you will be accepted wherever you go. You live in an eternal ‘but.’
The story of Starr Carter in the upcoming film The Hate U Give (which was based on the bestselling novel of the same name by Angie Thomas) is essentially the story of a ‘but.’ Starr was never mean to fit in, she is the middle child and only daughter of her parents, she is one of few black people at her private school, but yet she is unmistakably herself – no matter how many versions of herself there is.
And if you don’t know what The Hate U Give is about, here’s the official book synopsis:
Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.
Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.
But what Starr does—or does not—say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.
Reading Starr’s story was emotional, and groundbreaking. And even though her story is very much set in present day USA, it’s a story that’s prevalent around the world. And while police brutality isn’t a problem exclusive to the USA we shouldn’t take away from the pain that many communities throughout the country have dealt with. Angie Thomas was prompted to write this book after the 2009 death of Oscar Grant, and followed through with the deaths of Mike Brown and Tamir Rice and the rise of the prolific Black Lives Matter movement. This book was written with passion, with emotion, with the idea of changing the world.
So why is this movie important? What makes it so different to tons of other young adult films that are released every year?
1. It’s relatable
Reading the book, I couldn’t remember the time before when a book had affected me this much, I had to take breaks to sob. Even as a 28 year old woman from South Africa, on the opposite side of the world to Starr, the experiences rang true. Growing up as a non-white person in post-apartheid South Africa was not easy, it is still isn’t easy and we often forget how these experiences have affected and hurt us.
In South Africa, right after our schools were integrated, I remember being the only black person in my class, carefully taming my hair, perfecting my accent, and wholly learning to live as two different people – one at school, and one at home. Having to pretend to laugh with when your white friends made derogatory comments about your race, and fighting hard not to be a stereotype.
And even further than that, from the Carter’s family dynamic, to her interracial relationship with her boyfriend Chris, her friends – Maya, Kenya, and Hailey. The plot is well developed that you would be able to see something you recognize in every situation.
2. It’s educational
And even if you are not a POC, haven’t been a victim, or don’t understand the situation, there is a lot you can learn about how issues such as police brutality, racism, drugs, and gangsterism affects the community and the people in it.
I remember watching episode 5 of season one of Dear White People, and seeing the harrowing face of Reggie when a campus cop pulled a gun on him. You could see the trauma, the fear, and I thought this is a lesson in pain that many black people go through every day. These mediums are important because for many of us, we would never have known the crippling fear that encompasses every step that people of color take, the panic when hearing a police siren,and the lack of trust in very system that is meant to protect you.
3. It’s a story that deserves to be told
There are many Starr’s around the world who are used to being a ‘but’, who have witnessed crimes, pain, suffering, who have had to go to funerals of friends before they can even legally drive, who have seen their parents accosted or degraded because of their skin colour. I am Starr. We are all Starr in different ways. And this is a very real story that needs to be told.
And while I love a good allegorical or fantasy film, some things need to be said straight. The fact that many police officers have gotten away with accosting and killing innocent people is not okay; stereotypes and attacks based on racism is wrong; drug-ridden neighborhoods should not be tolerated they should be fought against. What Angie Thomas has done in this book, and what the film will show,is that this is the now, this is the current situations of young girls and boys especially in the USA but also around the world. We are on the cusp of change, of speaking up, of fighting back and I, for one, am excited to see where this will take us.
Watch the trailer for The Hate U Give.