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SHAH: ‘The Hate U Give’ is powerful call to action

Opinions Column: The Progressive's Hot Take

The gunshots were harrowing. I was in a movie theater, safe and sound. I knew that it was going to happen, too. I had seen it in the trailer. And still, the gunshots made my heart beat faster and my back straighten in alarm. I knew the cop was going to shoot the funny, cute, innocent, unarmed Black boy the movie had just introduced. I still cried. 

There are some stories that are so raw, so genuine, so earth-shattering that no matter what medium they take on they will transform your life. “The Hate U Give” is all of that and more. It is easy to simply summarize “The Hate U Give” into a movie about a Black teenager getting shot, but at its core, the movie refuses to be a simple social justice handbook. The movie is about strength, romance, resilience, friendship — it is about being a teenager while also happening to be Black. It is about real life. 

“The Hate U Give,” released on Oct. 5, is a nuanced, topical and important depiction of the Black experience in America, and we all need to be talking about it. 

The story centers around the strikingly self-aware Black teen Starr Carter (Amandla Stenberg). While she lives in the impoverished, predominantly Black neighborhood both of her parents grew up in, her and her two brothers attend a private school in the next town after Starr’s childhood friend Natasha was killed in a drive-by shooting. At school, Starr is careful to play the role of the “non-threatening Black girl” who swallows her tongue and speaks with perfect grammar. At home, Starr is a shell of her authentic Black self, feeling split between her upbringing and her lifestyle. Her delicate balance is challenged when her oldest friend Khalil is shot by a police officer while she sits in the passenger seat. It is in those subsequent moments where Starr must make vital decisions regarding the use of her voice in a volatile, violent environment, especially knowing that Khalil was a drug dealer in a powerful drug operation whose kingpin threatens her to keep her mouth shut. 

It is hard to relate to such a specific, niche racial experience, but “The Hate U Give” changes that. It is incredibly impressive to see “The Hate U Give” give every perspective a moment to be understood. By weaving in full-bodied stories and stances from Starr’s police officer uncle, her ex-con father, her protective mother, her white boyfriend and her white best friend, “The Hate U Give” allows the audience to become better acquainted and recognize ourselves within a variety of motivations and backgrounds that perpetuate a broken system. In doing so, the movie expertly exposes problematic rhetoric that segregates this problem into an us versus them scenario and forces us to realize that no one party is entirely to blame. In a remarkably memorable scene, Starr has an intensely heated, introspective conversation with her uncle Carlos (played by rapper and actor Common) who is on the police force. When Carlos argues that he is programmed to shoot under suspicious, potentially dangerous circumstances, Starr feels outraged at the hypocrisy, pointing out that he would never shoot at a white boy in a Mercedes. Carlos agrees without argument. Simply, he notes: “It’s a complex world.” That is a brave thing to suggest in a movie where we first-hand watch a Black boy die in cold blood. Still, this movie does not shy away from the hard-to-swallow truths. It does not shy away from noting that police officers are validly terrified when pulling over Black men in a gang and violence-ridden neighborhood, especially if those men are argumentative and brash, but still holding those officers accountable for their actions. 

The most striking image we are left with is Starr’s youngest brother Sekani, only 8 years old, holding a gun to the cops and the gang kingpin in defense of his father. We are left with reflection on the words that Tupac wrote that inspired the title and premise: "The hate you give little infants f***s everybody.” But, the movie is quick to correct — it is the hate we give. When we perpetuate a cycle of violence, blame and hatred, everybody gets hurt. The movie concludes with the arrest of the kingpin, suggesting that a crucial step in the process of alleviating these racial divides is to challenge the no snitching rule and unite as a community against the crime that perpetuates a cycle of violence in ghettos. We are left to question our own roles in this cycle. 

“The Hate U Give” revolutionizes and repackages the teen experience into something so much more meaningful and inspiring than any of the news stories about real-life instances of police brutality. If you ever need a reminder for what we should be fighting for, “The Hate U Give” will give you all of that and more. It may seem like progress is stalling and life is stagnant and what we do does not matter, but “The Hate U Give” reminds you of what is at stake. And now more than ever, we need that — a reminder that even though the moment may be over, the movement never will be. 

Anjali Shah is a Rutgers Business School sophomore, contemplating  her primary major but minoring in political science and philosophy. Her  column, “The Progressive’s Hot Take,” runs on alternate Fridays.


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