A timely novel about racism and police brutality becomes a timely film, with the October 19 release of The Hate U Give, based on Angie Thomas’s YA novel of the same name. The film stars Amandla Stenberg (The Darkest Minds; The Hunger Games) as the story’s protagonist, 16-year-old Starr Carter. The film also features Regina Hall (Girls Trip) as Starr’s mother and Algee Smith as Khalil, her best friend. The film is directed by George Tillman Jr. (Notorious), and is produced by 20th Century Fox.
Thomas made her authorial debut with The Hate U Give (HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray) in 2017. The book went on to receive the Coretta Scott King Award for the best novel written by an African-American author for children, as well as the Michael L. Printz Award. Thomas’s second novel, On the Come Up, will be published in February 2019.
In The Hate U Give, heroine Starr Carter occupies two realities: that of Garden Heights, a predominantly low-income, black neighborhood; and the starkly different world of her elite prep school. Starr has been coached by her father about police brutality and how African-Americans are often unfairly targeted by law-enforcement. So when she and Khalil are pulled over by a white officer, she tries to remain calm. But as Khalil steps out of the car, then reopens it to check on Starr, the officer opens fire, killing Khalil.
A media storm ensues, with Khalil being inaccurately depicted as a drug dealer and thug. When the offending officer fails to be indicted, Starr feels she has no choice but to identify herself and to publicly speak out, becoming a leader in the fight against police brutality.
Thomas has spoken about the initial inspiration for the book: the 2009 police shooting of Oscar Grant III, a 22-year-old African-American man in Oakland, Calif. Subsequent shootings of unarmed black men like Trayvon Martin and Tamir Rice inspired Thomas to expand what began as a short story into a full-length book.
In a recent interview with Entertainment Weekly, Thomas spoke about responses to The Hate U Give within the current political and social climate: “When you say ‘Black Lives Matter’ to three different people, you get 30 different reactions…. There are so many misunderstandings. There’s the assumption that it’s an anti-police book, when the fact is, it’s anti-police-brutality,” she said.
The novel has received its share of backlash. According to the ALA,The Hate U Give was the eighth most challenged book of 2017. Earlier this year, the local Fraternal Order of police in Charleston County, S.C., challenged the inclusion of The Hate U Give and All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely, on the Wando High School summer reading list for matriculating freshmen.
In a statement given to a Charleston County news station, John Blockmon, the local president of the Fraternal Order of Police, called The Hate U Give “almost an indoctrination of distrust of police and we’ve got to put a stop to that.” As of this summer, a final decision about whether the books would be included on the list had not yet been reached by the superintendent.
Another challenge to The Hate U Give came from the Katy Independent School district in Katy, Tex. The book was removed from district libraries last year, following complaints lodged by one parent. One Katy Independent School student, 15-year-old Nyshira A. Lundy, was particularly moved and inspired by The Hate U Give, and was outraged when she learned that the book had been removed from shelves. She wrote a letter to the school superintendent, which said that “this book might be a great tool for the Katy ISD school district. It can bring about unity and understanding among the different races in your middle and high schools. By placing the book back on the shelf it also gives the children a choice.” She spoke to the National Coalition Against Censorship about her efforts. In January of this year, the book was returned to library shelves.
The NCAC and other advocacy organizations joined in protesting both the Charleston County and Katy, Tex., challenges. A few YA authors, including Neil Gaiman, weighed in as well. As the Guardian reported, Gaiman tweeted: “I don’t actually believe that book-judging is a legitimate part of the business of policing.”
As is one of the ironies of book censorship, it often has the opposite of the intended effect—and with over 1.5 million copies of The Hate U Give sold in North America to date, it’s clear that readers are eager for storytelling that touches on pertinent topics. A movie tie-in edition of The Hate U Give was released last month, with the potential to draw many more readers to the book before the movie premieres nationwide. A collector’s edition of the book, which includes a letter to readers from the author, fan art, and a discussion of the story’s origins, released earlier this month. And, in a clear sign that art imitates life—and vice versa—Amandla Stenberg will be appearing on an October cover of Time, first in a series on “Next Generation Leaders.”