Wrestling with some truths in the movie “The Hate U Give”
I went with one of my best friend’s on Thursday to see a special screening of The Hate U Give, the movie based upon the novel of the same name written by Angie Thomas. This is a book that we both read as part of an adult book club that we are in (she’s our leader). I’ve read the book as a teen librarian, I’ve read the book as a parent of very white children, and my very white children have read it as well. The Teen and I have also been to book events where we have heard Angie Thomas speak about this book. So to say that I was excited to see this movie is an understatement. Also, The Teen wants you to know that she is mad that I went without her.
The movie, like the book, is excellent. The quality of the acting is remarkable. I was especially moved by the performance of Russell Hornsby who played the father, Maverick Carter. I believe he delivered an Oscar worthy performance. And Amandla Sternberg was equally excellent as Starr. There were many powerful performances delivered and I’m not going to lie, I was moved, I was uncomfortable, I was ashamed, I laughed, I wept, and I went on a full spectrum ride of emotional reactions.
I am not a movie reviewer or a theater expert, but I was amazed at the production value of the movie because I happen to be aware that several scenes had to be re-shot after K J Apa was added to the cast after a previous casting controversy. I don’t know how they managed to go back and re-shoot entire scenes or add him in or whatever it is they did, but if I didn’t know about the casting situation and wasn’t looking, I would never have known. It was flawless. I watch Riverdale – I am the mother of preteens and teens after all – but I’m not particularly a K J Apa fan, but I didn’t hate him in the role of Chris. Trust me when I say that is high praise coming from me.
There were a lot of scenes that I was not prepared to see brought to life so vividly on the big screen and they gutted me. I can’t imagine what it must be like for black teens who live these lives and have these conversations with their families and each other to see their truth depicted on the big screen. I am certainly not in a position to really evaluate this movie or talk about what it can or does mean in terms of representation. I many ways, this is not my movie to review and what I say has no merit whatsoever.
What I do want to talk about is a very sad truth that I realized as I walked out of the theater. You see, as I have mentioned here often, I am an older white women who comes from a conservative background. Through my years working with teens I have had my mind opened and have had the privilege to work with a wide variety of teens from a wide variety of backgrounds and I like to think that slowly but surely, I am changing for the good. But I also realized as I walked out of this movie that there are a lot of people, people that I am friends with, who would see this movie and still walk away thing that Khalil deserved what happened to him. I think about this truth a lot.
As I wrestle with my privilege I have come to understand that it is not a black person’s responsibility to educate me about racism. That no one owes me their time, attention or story to help me see them as human. And yet, Angie Thomas has written this remarkable book which can do that very thing we need, to help us to talk honestly about current events and the frequent killing of unarmed black boys and men at the hands of white police officers. This book and books like it force us to see the very headlines we read about through a different lens. I was devastated to realize that this book and this movie, which challenged, devastated and helped me grow, would not necessarily do that for everyone. I want to make sure you hear me loud and clear here: this is not a failing on any part of anyone involved in the writing of this book or the making of this movie, but speaks to the failing of my fellow white people to sit with and acknowledge the full humanity of people of color. That I walked away thinking there are so many people whose minds would not be swayed in any way by this movie is a testimony to how deeply entrenched racist views are in our world. I know black people have known this for a long time, I have not and I am truly sorry.
I walked away from this movie having a better understanding of a truth that I have often heard about issues of racism but haven’t fully grasped: we can’t move away from racism because many people don’t want to because they want to continue in the power that comes from oppressing others. Cycles of poverty, gang violence, “the projects”, selling drugs, gentrification, prison as an extension of slavery, white privilege – these are all fairly new concepts to me that I have been trying to grapple with as an older white woman coming from a place of privilege and a fairly conservative background. There was a lot of good discussion in the movie that brought these truth to more light for me. But the thing is, I can honestly tell you that I know far too many people who won’t be moved at all.
I am thankful to Angie Thomas for writing this book. I know that she did not write it for me, and yet I have benefited from it because I have listened and grown. That was a gift she did not owe me, but I am thankful to receive it. I am also thankful for all of the work and emotion that went into making this movie. It is hands down a stellar movie and I will wrestle with it for a very long time. I’m sure I still don’t get it, but I’m going to keep trying.
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About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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