Review / The Hate You Give / Josh McGary
The Hate U Give is a movie about a young girl named Starr who lives between two worlds. The first world is in the afro-centric Garden Heights where she lives with her family. Here she participates in a stereotypical, media portrayed “black experience.” In this life, she has witnessed many things at a young age, including drugs, general thugery, sexual promiscuity and ultimately the death of one of her best friends. Though her parents disagree about the need to ultimately stay in this environment when she is an adult, they decide to try to spare her anymore heartache and to give her a “leg up” in life. They do this by sending her to a “white school,” where she, by virtue of being black, is by default, cool. At Williamson Prep, Starr has a different persona whose seemingly entire existence, is secretly built around distancing herself from the truths of her Garden Heights life.
The movie begins when Starr is witness to, yet another friend being unjustifiably killed, this time by a police officer in Garden Heights. Starr’s secret life in Garden Heights becomes a subject of national attention and her two communities wrestle for her to have the courage to own one community or the other in the wake of it all. Caught between two worlds, the film focuses on the divide between Starr’s two worlds collapsing into each other, Starr’s inability to cope with the overflow, and each world’s mounting pressure to gain meaning and control in the senseless death.
- Intersectionality must create dual identities
From the first voiceover in the movie, we are told to assume that Starr’s dilemma of dual identities is the only reasonable personhood she can have and that people who don’t understand that are people who are too privileged to know better. This is best seen in her emotionally distant relationship with her white boyfriend. He is naively color blind to her, which she views as inappropriate because she is by default colored. Though there is no resolution, beyond their willingness to accept that he just doesn’t understand her, the movie is inconsistent in its treatment of this as Starr views her father’s suspicion of her white boyfriend to be inappropriate.
Though different aspects of a person’s life create different vantage points and therefore a diversity of worldviews, these do not have to remain at odds with each other. These can be married to synthesize a holistic understanding of self if there can be communication between the parts. Beyond this, the biblical model is to celebrate the differences as distinct parts of a single whole. Therefore the identity isn’t in the part but rather the whole. If Starr’s boyfriend cannot relate to her as a whole, it is because, on a systematic level, Starr chooses to keep herself a fractured person. This will be covered a little more in depth, below, when we talk less about identity and more about communication.
- Language is the most powerful tool one can use
The title of the movie is the key to understanding the overall narrative of the film. The Hate U Give can be shortened to T.H.U.G., itself a shorter version of a Tupac lyric: The Hate U Give Little Infants F*cks Everbody. This can be shortened to T.H.U.G.L.I.F.E., a satirical inversion of the Concept of “Thug Life,” a prevalent worldview in Garden Heights which is a savage form of social contract theory. Tupac’s lyric is introduced by her friend, Khalil, as a way to show that he viewed the system of oppression in Thug Life Mentality and Garden Heights as something that is both systematic and in need of leaving. Himself being caught in the Thug Life Mentality, he was determined to switch his thinking to the T.H.U.G.L.I.F.E. thought process and escape the systematic oppression of Garden Heights. Immediately after introducing her to this new way of thinking, he was promptly killed, leaving the Tupac’s lyric a prominent bitter truth in her life.
Tupac was calling people to speak differently and not perpetuate hate in the ghettos.
The rest of the movie is spent with Starr wrestling with the passive call to action in the T.H.U.G.L.I.F.E. ideology. She doesn’t know how to give her relationship with Khalil proper consideration as her two worlds fight to control her voice. Throughout the movie, she wrestles with what to say, what not to say and when to keep quiet. Throughout the many examples in the film of a systematic negative effect of language use in the film, none is more jarring than that of her elementary aged brother grabbing a gun and threatening to shoot the local drug dealer. It is here that we see the effect of T.H.U.G.L.I.F.E. ideology played out. After calling all to stop perpetuating the violence with their words, every part sets down their weapons and peace is maintained.
The scripture calls us to control our tongue and to have our hearts be changed to those that love each other tenderheartedly. It does matter what you say. It does have a noticeable effect on the culture of the next generation.
- Success is defined by opportunity
The world of Garden Heights is built on a lack of opportunity. It is this realization and the vocalization of it that serves to get Starr in trouble with the local drug dealers, the King Lords. Admitting the King Lord’s control of the city to a grand jury, in trying to excuse Khalil’s drug-dealing ways as an inescapable fact of ghetto life is a defining moment of the movie. It shows the nihilistic tendency of the culture and why Starr and others feel so trapped. The ideology is that because there is no opportunity in the ghetto that isn’t corrupt, all people are destined to a life of relative corruption. Khalil had to be a drug dealer. Any questioning of that truth is seen as not truly understanding, or even respecting the culture. In some cases in the movie, this was even expressed as racism.
Though our relative situations create something to rise above, the Scripture is very clear that our ability to rise above them doesn’t represent our success. Success is defined by how well we do two things: Our follow through of loving God wholeheartedly and man tenderheartedly. None of these things depends on any connection to station, gender, race or any other thing. By a biblical standard, Khalil would have been successful by simply denying the King Lord’s control in his life, and living, not by Tupac’s T.H.U.G.L.I.F.E. mentality, but by Christ’s two commands. This may have led to ultimate poverty or even death and still within his original situation, but he would’ve been viewed as successful before God. The biblical truth is that Khalil sold drugs because he didn’t trust God to take care of him and he wanted a different life than the one he was given.
The truth of this is mirrored in the movie by Starr’s two Father figures. The first is by her biological father who learned the hard way that he had to leave the Thug Life. And her uncle who chose to join the police instead of the Thug Life. If it is true that Khalil had to participate in Thug Life to advance beyond the trappings of Garden heights, then the movie isn’t very consistent in giving these two male authority figures the choices they made. Even in the world of The Hate U Give, a choice is always an option. Beyond this, the Bible supports the idea that in Christ, we are now firstly a part of his Church. This is to be the culture that transcends all other cultures. This is what we rely on to move past where we started from.
- Privilege makes it impossible to communicate between different social statuses
Throughout the movie, Starr wrestles with communicating her inner turmoil to those who don’t have the same cultural understanding as her. Even when she is true to herself and eventually speaks out, there is an ideology that understanding can only truly be achieved by giving in to the idea that her white friends cannot relate to her in a meaningful way. As the movie ends, it is seen that her best friend at the beginning of the movie is now no longer viewed as her friend. There are only a few points in the movie that drive a wedge between their relationship and in these times it is because her friend chose to ask for clarity on presuppositions that Starr held about intersectional differences or because she believed that there were two sides to the police shooting. In a moment of climax for the movie, Starr’s white friend questions her on why it isn’t possible that the police officer could have made a simple, though fatal, mistake about the hairbrush in his hand being a gun. Starr’s response is to use her friend’s hairbrush to illustrate that her friend is a racist. She does this by attacking her with that hairbrush and menacing her with it by shouting commands at her and hitting it with her. As her friend crumbles into a fetal position, Starr walks away feeling justified in proving the point that her friend sees her as a threat on the basis of her skin tone. The audience is left with the sense that any black person holding a hairbrush is, by default, a black person holding a weapon because every black person is dangerous and white people are by nature suspicious of them. This, therefore, nullifies, in Starr’s mind, any idea that policeman could be justified in shooting Khalil because there is no possible justified homicide when someone is racist.
This is tacitly false. Whether someone is racist doesn’t change the fact that they could be justified in committing homicide. Beyond this, racism is not the most reasonable conclusion to come to. This point is illustrated in a conversation that Starr has with her Policeman uncle. He sheds light on how difficult it can be to know what is a weapon when you are on the job. However, he does admit, when pushed by Starr, that he would not shoot first with a white person. This seems to be meant to illustrate that the systemic racism had infiltrated Starr’s uncle’s way of thinking. However, causation and correlation are different things. it doesn’t address the sheer statistics and data that imply that the behavior to shoot first with a black man is more reasonable than with white. Starr’s uncle has to make quick decisions based on general sets of data. It is both natural and prudent to generalize and act. It does not logically follow that racism is the deciding factor, even if race is a factor in the decision-making process.
Furthermore, this racial profiling is exactly what Starr is doing to her white friend in assuming that she is a racist privileged white person, based solely on her level of intersectionality. Starr’s tantrum toward her friend did nothing to prove her point that her friend is racist. This point is simply unproven by that interaction. The fact that Starr’s friend collapsed into a fetal position was because Starr literally assaulted her with a hairbrush. Therefore, based on the evidence, Starr’s friend should view her as emotionally unstable at that moment and be scared of her. This is not because she is a black person holding a potential weapon. But because she is an unstable person using a hairbrush as a literal weapon.
Beyond this, the idea that differences need to create a disparity in our high view of another person’s value is false. Christianity teaches that in Christ there is no gender, race or any other distinguisher’s in terms of ones value, or appropriate minimum level of treatment. Historically, this has been why many social services and missions of mercy can be traced back to Christianity. It is the Christian worldview which denies the view that minorities are innately different. When we allow our worldview to contain the idea that suspicion and privilege are foregone realities we must live with, we are denying the high biblical view of personhood.
The Hate U Give is a thought inducing two hours of dynamic content. It is well acted and well cast, though ultimately fails to provide any real solution or true hope to the problem presented in its title.