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Amandla Stenberg and The Hate U Give creators talk systemic racism, Black Lives Matter and the role of media


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Amandla Stenberg fronts The Hate U Give as Starr, a teenager torn between as sense of responsibility to her black community after her friend is shot by a cop, and her desire to fit in at her rich, predominantly white high school. The story is based on Angie Thomas’ best-selling novel of the same name, and is directed by George Tillman Jr.

“It’s been surreal,” states Thomas. “The book came out last year and here we are a year later at the London film premiere, that’s incredible to me. I’m honoured to know that the book has touched so many people that they’ve decided to turn it into a film, so I hope that the story continues to resonate with people.”

It was a love story between Tillman and Stenberg, and the original book. “I was really blown away by the story, the character, her family, the journey that she takes, and I just wanted to make a small contribution to that,” explains the director.

Stenberg herself had read the book long before being approached with a script. “I was given a literal bible in the form of Angie’s book and I was able to draw on that, and draw upon my own anger when it comes to the organisation and violence against black bodies.”

Amandla Stenberg and Algee Smith in The Hate U Give (2018)

For Stenberg, “this project really was crucial in every regard, it was like a marrying of my beliefs, what I want to do as an actress, the kind of stories I want to be a part of, and what I wanted to show the world. And I was very excited about how this narrative could touch lives…

“We don’t have expectations that this film will somehow fix racism or police brutality in any way, but hopefully it will be able to cultivate a sense of empathy amongst audiences,” she adds.

“I think it’s really important as a director to really reflect the times in which your movie exists, I feel like if you’re just ignoring that, then what are you using the media for?” Tillman asks.

And the star of the film agrees, adding that “this film has been timely for a long time, but I think now people are ready to have conversations around it and discuss it through media. So to be a part of something that means something, both to me personally and to the black community as a whole… that’s always a rewarding experience.”

Despite its heavy themes, The Hate U Give has its moments of humour and levity. When asked about the contrasting emotions presented in the script, Stenberg deftly explains: “It’s like the medicine with the candy, and also I think George just knows how to make a good movie and speak to what makes us most human. And oftentimes that is the pain and prosecution, and other times it’s also the joy and the love. So, I think for him it was important to encompass all of that.”

As for the film’s title, it starts with Tupac; “he’s the centre… The song ‘T.H.U.G.L.I.F.E’ really reflects what the film stood for,” Tillman describes. The idea that ‘the hate you give little infants ‘effs everybody’ is the rallying call to this movie, a way to explore the ways in which systemic racism is perpetuated. The story goes one step further, stating that it’s ‘the hate we give’ that’s really to blame.

“I think when we say ‘the hate we give’, that we’re talking about our own personal responsibility, and the way that we present ourselves to young people.” The author continues, stating that when “I say that systemic racism is the central issue in this story, that we never shy away from that. But when we say ‘the hate we give’ we want to make sure we still instil great values into our children.

“For me, I hope people walk away with a better understanding of why we say Black Lives Matter, I hope they walk away with a better understanding of why we say it’s a systemic issue, I hope that they walk away with a little more understanding of their own power.”

In the end, what Stenberg hopes for the film is that it “be empowering, and I want it to empower those who are marginalised, and teach those who aren’t marginalised how to be good allies.”

The Hate U Give is out in cinemas now, distributed by 20th Century Fox. 

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