By Kinzie Baker
“The Hate You Give” is a recent, socially-relevant film that tells a story that is “torn from the headlines” of today. The title of the film is taken from Tupac’s Thug Life concept, an acronym for The Hate U Give Little Infants Fucks Everyone. In the original novel that the film was based on, Khlalil breaks this concept down saying, “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.” The internalization of this hate and discrimination by young children them forms the very foundation of our flawed society. The film explores and rejects the theme of racial double consciousness in the form of a coming-of-age story of a young black girl.
Starr’s home is in Garden Heights, a primarily black neighborhood with high crime rates and low chances of making it out. She goes to school at Williamson, a private college prepatory high school in a white, affluent suburb. Starr’s father, Maverick Carter, is an ex-gang member and drug dealer, and her mother, Lisa Carter, works as a nurse at a hospital. Her parents are seen in the film to actively be working to break the cycle of violence with their children.
When she enters her school every day, she turns off “Garden Heights Starr” and becomes “Starr 2.0”, an alternate identity in which she tones down her “blackness”. She speaks more clearly, abstains from “ghetto” talk and mannerisms. W.E.B. Du Bois dubbed this phenomenon double consciousness. A conflicting sensation felt by black people who are aware of society’s perception of race, and feel the need to or do act in a different manner used to make them appear less threatening and less black in white spaces, especially to law enforcement.
This double consciousness beings with the opening scene of the film in which Starr’s father is lecturing her and her siblings about what to do if confronted by a police officer. This exposes Starr to society’s and law enforcement’s perception of black people at a young age and the criminalization of blackness, and furthers the reinforcement of double consciousness or dual identities that we see develop and break down in the film.
Double consciousness is also constructed in the scene in which Khalil is pulled over by a police officer. Although unaware of what he did wrong, Khalil speaks in a different manner to the member of law enforcement while Starr urges him to stick to her father’s rules of safety to “put his hands on the dash” and not make any sudden movements, despite his innocence.
Throughout the film, Starr slowly begins to reject the necessity of double consciousness and a dual identity. This process begins after Khalil was murdered in an act of police brutality, forcing Starr to confront the reality of blackness in America. At first, Starr keeps her life-long friendship with Khalil a secret and doesn’t tell anyone that she was the witness to his killing, but after her white friend Hailey verbalizes her sympathy for the cop that shot him, Starr becomes angry and begins to see the two worlds that she resides in more clearly.
Her rejection of double consciousness starts as she questions her friendship with her friends who “don’t see race”, challenging a popular concept in white American culture which diminishes the experiences of racial minorities and not acknowledging the causes of racial injustice by blurring the color of their skin. Slowly, she gains more confidence in herself and loses her fear of angering others in an attempt not to be seen as the “angry black girl” and begins to discover her racial identity as a black woman. She challenges her peers at Williamson and their intentions in participating in a Black Lives Matter event, discovers the power of her voice at a city-wide protest, and unpacks the trauma that her racial identity has caused her to experience.
“The Hate U Give” is a ground-breaking film that sheds light on very relevant problems in American society, but in a way, it explores double consciousness and Starr’s racial identity in a very safe manner that excludes the experiences of some black people and makes these themes more easily consumable for white audiences. The main character, Starr, is a young, black female who attends a primarily white institution (PWI). Her age, gender, and educational status at a PWI make her a less threatening figure to the white audience and allow them to more easily empathize with her than, for example, an older black male with a public education from a predominately black or minority institution. In Starr’s case, double consciousness or code switching was a tool mostly of convenience but in many other cases it is a tool for survival.
Black Lives Matter, Union Labor, blacklivesmatter.com.
“Double Consciousness.” Double Consciousness [DuBoisopedia], UMass, 18 Dec. 2013, scua.library.umass.edu/duboisopedia/doku.php?id=about:double_consciousness.
Jerebek, Joshua. “Racial Identity Development in T.H.U.G.” Gender and Diversity in Film, WordPress, 3 Mar. 2019, engl359.home.blog/analytic-blog-posts/racial-identity-development-in-thug/.
Reid, Claire. “The Real Meaning Behind Tupac’s ‘Thug Life’ Tattoo.” LADbible, LADbible. https://bit.ly/2SPXL1R.
Stafford, Zach. “When You Say You ‘Don’t See Race’, You’re Ignoring Racism, Not Helping to Solve It | Zach Stafford.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 26 Jan. 2015, http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/jan/26/do-not-see-race-ignoring-racism-not-helping.
The Hate U Give. Directed by George Tillman Jr., 20th Century Fox, 19 Oct. 2018
“The Hate U Give.” IMDb, IMDb.com, 19 Oct. 2018, http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5580266/.