These days I live in a perpetual state of simmering outrage given the popular support of the “goings on” and happenings within our current administration. The lies, the deceit, the xenophobia, the racism, the misogyny, the homophobia, the anti-intellectualism—things that have been around a good long time, but now seem to have settled in comfortably with those who have the power to keep it all in place. I’m discouraged.
But then, there’s this:
The Hate U Give, a YA (Young Adult) novel authored by Angie Thomas, spent 50 weeks at the top of the New York Times bestseller list after its publication in February 2017. The book has received numerous awards and also has enjoyed an immense popularity. It has also generated considerable controversy.
The following is the author’s profile from Amazon’s website: “Angie Thomas was born, raised, and still resides in Jackson, Mississippi as indicated by her accent. She is a former teen rapper whose greatest accomplishment was an article about her in Right-On Magazine with a picture included. She holds a BFA in Creative Writing from Belhaven University and an unofficial degree in Hip Hop. She is an inaugural winner of the Walter Dean Myers Grant 2015, awarded by We Need Diverse Books.”
The Hate U Give was adapted to film, directed by George Tillman, Jr., and recently (October 2018) released. Here is the film’s trailer and the website’s blurb:
“Starr Carter is constantly switching between two worlds — the poor, mostly black neighborhood where she lives and the wealthy, mostly white prep school that she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is soon shattered when she witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend at the hands of a police officer. Facing pressure from all sides of the community, Starr must find her voice and decide to stand up for what’s right.”
Last weekend I went to the theater to watch this film. I don’t believe that, even ten years ago, the movie would have made it to the big screen. However, the long list of unarmed, black men that have been killed in recent years by police created a yawning void within our society where the movie fits well.
The following includes only a partial list of those unarmed men killed by police: Botham Shem Jean, Terrence Crutcher, Antwon Rose, Jr., Philando Castile, Walter Scott, Robert Lawrence White, Eric Harris, Tony Robinson, Rumain Brisbon, Tamir Rice, and Michael Brown.
The Hate U Give is perhaps a little too “pat,” however, it does show some nuance and attempts very hard not to be didactic. For example, after witnessing Khalil’s murder by a white cop, Starr has a conversation with her Uncle Carlos, a Black policeman, regarding his protocol were he to “pull over” a white man in a suit. Uncle Carlos, among other things, talks about split-second decisions officers must make as they assess a potentially dangerous situation. Even so, Uncle Carlos’ speech reflects more latitude given to the theoretical white man in a suit and Starr calls him on it. “Did you hear what you just said?”
The movie played with and expanded its title like this:
When you read the first letter of each word moving downwards, you get THUG LIFE. THUG LIFE is an important theme in Angie Thomas’ work. Some of her inspiration came from Tupac.
From the YouTube website: “Pac said Thug Life stood for “The Hate U Give Little Infants Fucks Everybody. T-H-U-G-L-I-F-E. Meaning what society gives us as youth, it bites them in the ass when we wild out. Get it?”
“What you might not know is that The Hate U Give was not only inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, but also largely by Tupac, his THUG LIFE tattoo, and his activism. Author Angie Thomas often refers to Tupac not only in her writing, but in her conversation surrounding The Hate U Give.”
Angie Thomas said, “When we were trying to figure out a title for the book, I came across a YouTube clip of him discussing THUG LIFE. […] When I saw him explain what it means, it hit me that that’s not just in my book, but that’s what we see in society. When these unarmed black people lose their lives, the hate they’ve been given screws us all. We see it in the form of anger and we see it in the form of riots. So when I saw that in the video, it was like a sign.”
I’m convinced that America does not get (or refuses to get) the deep roots and continual blooming of institutional racism, a phenomenon that can (and does) lead to frustration, anger, and sometimes, violence. The film succeeds in demonstrating this.
If there’s a glimmer of hope in these dark days, perhaps it stems from the fact that a movie such as this is now being widely shown. Even though the recent mid-term elections brought—some would say hope—to the political landscape, I’m convinced that it is through works of art such as Angie Thomas’ book (later made into a movie) that transformation of the human spirit is most likely to occur.
Literature has the capacity to change or modify our worldview and subsequently our behavior. Why else throughout human history have powerful people within a society systematically banned and burned books? At least there has not been that kind of bonfire on the White House lawn—not yet anyway!
The Hate U Give moved me to tears. One woman in the audience wailed.
Esther Nelson is an adjunct professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, Va. She has taught courses on Human Spirituality, Global Ethics, Christian-Muslim Relations, and Religions of the World, but focuses on her favorite course, Women in Islam. She is the co-author (with Nasr Abu Zaid) of Voice of an Exile: Reflections on Islam and the co-author (with Kristen Swenson) of What is Religious Studies? : A Journey of Inquiry.
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