Although told from the lens of Starr Carter (Stenberg), the police murder of her childhood best friend and crush Khalil (Smith) drives the story. The film kicks off with Starr’s father, Maverick (Russell Hornsby), giving “the talk,” instructing Starr, her slightly older half brother Seven and much younger brother Sekani, who are just kids, on how to handle the inevitable police encounters that will plague their lives.
As a teenager, Starr masks the reality of her black Garden Heights community from her white boyfriend Chris (“Riverdale’s” KJ Apa) and best friend Hailey (Sabrina Carpenter) at Williamson, the predominantly white school she and her brothers attend. After Khalil’s murder, where she was the lone witness, becomes a major news headline and the center of a Black Lives Matter-style protest, Starr’s two worlds collide, and she must find her voice.
Actress Amandla Stenberg pose with fans at “The Hate U Give” Atlanta red carpet screening at Regal Atlantic Station on Oct. 3. PARAS GRIFFIN / GETTY IMAGES
On the Atlanta red carpet, Stenberg shared that her approach to playing Starr included “trying to honor the book as much as possible” and “taking pieces from my own life in ways that kind of related because I had kind of a parallel experience growing up in a black community and going to a school that’s predominantly white cross town.” She also was concerned about “trying to honor the lives of those who have been killed by police, who have been killed by gun violence.”
The film and Stenberg’s Starr resonated strongly with 15-year-old Shianna Franklin, who watched alongside her Benjamin E. Mays High School classmates who were happy to see their school as Williamson on the big screen. Taken by Franklin’s sobbing throughout the film, Mississippi rapper and Atlanta resident David Banner closed out his last post-screening Q&A with Stenberg; the film’s director, George Tillman Jr.; the book’s author, Angie Thomas (also a Mississippi native); and more, by asking why.
“The whole film was so good because it was filmed in Atlanta, where I was born and raised. It’s the only place I’ve ever known,” she tearfully explained. “… this is where we originate from, this is where we found love, this is where we learned to walk, we learned how to talk, we made relationships and friendships and stuff, so for them to film it here, it was really special to me personally.” Franklin also added how she preached the film’s message of finding and using your voice to her younger siblings.
Starr Carter is constantly switching between two worlds: the poor, mostly black, neighborhood where she lives and the rich, mostly white, 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. Now, facing pressures from all sides of the community, Starr must find her voice and stand up for what's right. THE HATE U GIVE is based on the critically acclaimed New York Times bes
This appeal to young people is precisely why director Tillman, who has a 15-year-old son, signed on. “It’s been a while since we really tapped into a young audience,” he said during early press rounds alongside Thomas at the Ritz-Carlton downtown. For him, the story “felt very youthful but (also) very honest and true.”
Smith, 23, who grew up in Atlanta, spoke to the story’s timeliness and how real his character Khalil’s fate is for him. “I’m definitely a young black man in America, and that can happen to me at any time,” he said, co-signed by his co-stars Lamar Johnson (Seven), 24, and TJ Wright (Sekani), 10. “It can happen to any of my brothers at any time.”
Inspired by the iconic late rapper (and onetime familiar Atlanta presence) Tupac’s T.H.U.G.L.I.F.E. — The Hate U Give Little Infants (Expletive) Everybody — philosophy, Thomas digs at the structural realities that dog Starr’s life. Pleased with the film and Stenberg, Thomas hopes it “creates a lot of conversations” and “empowers a new generation of young people, and even older people, to find their voices.”
“The Hate You Give”
Starring: Russell Hornsby, Regina Hall, Amandla Stenberg, Anthony Mackie, Issa Rae and Common. Directed by George Tillman Jr.
Rated PG-13 for mature thematic elements, some violence, drug material and strong language. At metro theaters. 2 hours, 12 minutes.