The Hate U Give — And The Black Experience

Warning the following will contain spoilers for the film The Hate U Give. If you’d like a spoiler free summary as to why you should or shouldn’t see it, please scroll down to the bottom of the article that begins with spoiler free.

I asked myself why am I watching this film? Sitting in a understandably empty theater. Black trauma isn’t exactly something that’s popular on black folks’ minds.

As the film begins the opening scene starts with a very familiar conversation. Starr and her siblings are having the talk with her parents. The talk so many black people recognize. That point in our youth where our parents remind us; this is what you should do when police are around. There’s variations of the talk of course but it’s one you get immediately.

What was particularly different with this talk was how Starr’s father framed it. Mr. Carter certainly gave instructions for his children to follow. More importantly what he did was remind them they had rights. He reminded them being black isn’t a boon, it’s an honor. “Know your worth” he said as he handed them the Black Panther bill of rights.

As I watched Starr describe her neighborhood, and her family you can feel that pride of where you’re from. Our origins are things to be acknowledged but everyone views them differently. This was juxtaposed with the feelings of her mother wanting to move vs her father wanting to make the community better. A subject I constantly ask myself.

The black experience gets explored more as we see Starr go to school. Often bathed in a melancholy blue light, this preparatory school is something of an escape. Here Starr speaks about the often too real moment when black people have to code switch. When she visually removes her hoodie and steps into that world she hides herself.

I too didn’t want anyone to think less of me either as a black kid in school. I, we know better now. Code switching is hiding in plain sight and not been seen as less. While She was navigating school, I told myself I wish I didn’t code switch then. I actually started to become angry at my teenage self. I’m sorry younger me, I really let you down homie.

Afterwards as we see Starr at a party and then enters Khalil. A friend whom she has known since childhood. Eventually circumstances cause her and Khalil to drive her home.

After they share a tender moment, they get pulled over. At this point, I get nervous, I start to feel a little anxiety. I remember the time I got pulled over.

I didn’t use my turn signal to get to the parking lot of my gym. Something I’ve done hundreds of times, in front of other cop vehicles. However that morning it was different. Nothing happened (thankfully) at 5AM, a lot of people recognized me and stood around to see what was happening. The white cop asked me questions, I answered, he gave me a warning and left.

However for this film, this stop doesn't have a good ending. I was getting more tense as Khalil questioned the officer. They had dialogue back and forth, the cop was assuming the worst. I mean par the course for a white cop when encountering a blackman huh? Starr kept beginning her friend to comply. Then he’s told to step out of the car. I’m getting more nervous….

Starr is fumbling around for her phone, as she tried and failed to record the cop. During this time, Khalil isn’t really concerned. He just wants to know that she’s OK. Again, she’s asking him to comply completely. After all her upbringing has told her about this situation over and over. Khalil then reaches for his brush in an attempt to ease her worries.

Then comes the gun fire. Khalil is on the floor, Starr runs over to his side.

She’s hysterical, I’m feeling a swell of emotions. The cop reports the incident and is heard claiming he had a weapon. Starr is trying to speak to her friend as he’s dying. The cop is frantically looking for the weapon and realizes it was a brush. At this moment, we see Khalil take his last breath and die with Starr a few feet away.

At this time, I started crying. I realize I’m watching a film but my emotions reminded about something. When it comes to trauma and suffering unique to black folks I have my limits. For the most part, I can’t watch films or documentaries that examine these violent realities.

Would you believe I haven’t seen police brutality footage for years? I tell other black folks that I “can’t watch them”. I will read about the stories to remind myself of the truth over and over.

Allow me to describe why I don’t watch that footage which I’ve never told anyone. I feel profuse sadness; for I am completely powerless to stop it. I feel utter rage; because our lives are considered nothing against this system. At this same time I feel cold; for remembering this could be any of my family, friends, or myself. No amount of feigning positivity or false accusations that things are better help quiet any of these feelings. Even now, they still linger.

The other end result? I continue to lose respect for those whom can help course correct this. Correction, what little respect I have for them erases further and further.

Everything I described looped within myself as I saw Khalil’s death scene. Afterwards, when Starr is delivering her statement I cried again. I couldn’t stop thinking about the ongoing black suffering we still see.

What happens throughout the film is that Starr has to ask herself questions. The same questions that involves much of the black experience. Do we have a responsibility to each other? Do we have a responsibility to our community? Our family? What about our own well-being? More importantly should we carry these responsibilities?

So we eventually see Starr find her voice and speak about that night. Seeing her come into her own and accept herself is nothing short of beautiful. I did cry a few other times. I want to note I don’t remember crying this much during a film. Actually, this is probably the first time in my life I’ve cried this much.

There’s a moment when Starr begins to re-evalute a friendship. Her supposed friendship with this young white woman comes into question as she struggles with the nature of her friend’s death. I found myself somewhat sad as I can sympathize. After being more vocal with my activism, I learned another truth. The people I thought were my friends, in fact were not. They’re just people I know whom aren’t allies. Again, let me add this isn’t an experience unique onto myself.

No spoilers but let’s suppose you haven’t seen the film yet and you’re trying to figure out if you should. Well, I can make a case for both yes and no without ruining the film for you. Keep in mind my answers are being written as I’m speaking directly to black folks only.

Why should you see it? The film posses a lot of confirmation to the black experience. Our positive aspects; such as unity, family and knowing our worth. At the same time, it doesn’t shy away from the negative aspects. Such as how we can be oppressed on multiple levels and have little choice. These dualities are presented matter factually.

The film also reminds the audience there’s more power in whom we are than we realize. We should never forget, as this is how we tell the world we are here. Finally, for the injustices we face daily, just being helps stop it even if we don’t see it.

As for the reason to not see this…there’s a lot. If you aren’t in the market to see Black suffering, I would avoid this film. The hurt displayed although fictional, is very real. You see it affect family, the community, and on a personal level. This is what we’ve seen time and time again with police brutality.

The trauma we see and experience is hard to make sense of. Often times, it’s utterly soul crushing when you think about how justice doesn’t exist. We can handle being angry and sad so many times as we wait and hope for an end to this. You will more than likely relive all those emotions you’ve experienced during news of senseless police violence. This is more than enough reason to not watch this film.

Please recognize your feelings if choose to see the movie.

The Hate U Give is a powerful film overall. Though in full honesty, black folks may not even need to see it. It’ll remain an essential watch for all the right and very painful reasons when it comes to the Black experience.

I bat for PoCs, marginalized, equality, inclusion & geekdom. I'm warming the bench until coach subs me in. https://linktr.ee/jeffreyrousseau

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store