What "The Hate U Give" Means for Young Black Women

The highly anticipated film adapted from the New York Times Bestselling book The Hate U Give had an early release in select theaters across the country, and I had the privilege of being one of the first in the public to see it. Having read the book, I was excited to see how Hollywood would take such a relevant and controversial story and put it on the big screen.

The Hate U Give is the story of Starr Carter, a young black teen who is juggling two different lives as she traverses living in a poor, black neighborhood while attending a wealthy, mostly white prep school. The careful lines she’s drawn between these two worlds are blurred after she witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood friend by police and has to deal with pressures on both sides about what to do. The film truly encapsulated the spirit and message of the book which made my book nerd heart very happy, but more importantly, the film serves as a beacon of empowerment for young black women everywhere.

Throughout the film, we watch as Starr (Amandla Stenberg) struggles with whether she should speak up or stay silent about what she witnessed. The last thing she wants is to be labeled at school as “that girl from the rough neighborhood that watched her friend die,” nor, does she want to face the consequences of speaking out that her community presents. Yet, the pressure doesn’t surmount the guilt she would feel if she didn’t speak out for her friend. Starr knows the power of her own voice and decides to use it, showing black women that their voices are important and should not be silenced.

For anyone, and especially young black women, it is easy to get caught up in worrying how you’ll appear to others and how you’ll be received. While the stakes for most of us may not be as high as Starr’s, this anxiety still silences us, keeps us from expressing ourselves for fear of being perceived as angry, or loud. In some instances, if we do speak up our feelings are invalidated and dismissed. The film notes this as well, realistically depicting moments where Starr is deemed dramatic by friends who think she’s making a big deal about what they consider insignificant. Despite these attempts to keep her down, Starr finds her voice and takes on a movement.

While the story of racially charged relationships between black communities and police is not a novel idea - there have been a few films to come out this year alone, such as Blindspotting and Monsters and Men - what makes The Hate U Give standout is that a young black woman is the lead. Typically, they play the supporting roles to men in this type of story as concerned wives and girlfriends. In the movie industry's idealized beauty standards and stereotypical roles, it can be hard for minority actors and actresses to find decent work. It’s not often that there is a feature film of this scale that spotlights a black woman.

Even so, this film missed out on an opportunity to do so fully. There was controversy over the casting of Stenberg in the film because she is biracial and lighter skinned, whereas the character of Starr is depicted as darker skinned. Stenberg and producers have made clear that her casting is about her shared experience of growing up in two different worlds and not about her looks, but the casting does still assist in perpetuating colorism in Hollywood. However, this film serves as a stepping stone to normalizing having black women front and center on screen.

Stenberg also plays a black female lead in the young adult book to movie adaptation of Everything, Everything which follows a teen with an autoimmune disease that keeps her inside the house and away from experiencing a full life. It’s a teen romance at heart and not typically what we see young black women in. Seeing this representation is not only important so that black women can see themselves in the characters they’re watching, but also for wider audiences to see this representation as well. Stenberg said it best in an interview for Jet Magazine

“These projects don’t really exist so when they do come to fruition and are widely distributed across the entire world everyone gets to see a Black girl carrying a film that is not necessarily made just for a target Black audience and is not about race. They get to see a Black girl existing, and I think that’s one of the most powerful things, the humanization of Black people, the representation of Black people in media.”

In an interview, Stenberg was asked what she hoped would be the one thing that audiences take from The Hate U Give  and she replied, “I just want people to see black people as human.” No matter what role she takes on, she never neglects her mission to raise black people, and especially black women, up with her. The Hate U Give is an avenue towards empowering young black women, but everyone should see it when it releases to theaters nationwide on October 19th.

(Image credit: cover, 1, 2)