Representation in "The Hate U Give"

Sunday, October 21, 2018 - 7:10pm

Amandla Stenberg

Amandla Stenberg Buy this photo
20th Century Fox

When I first read “The Hate U Give,” I remember feeling emotional. More than just understanding the very core of what was being discussed and the politics around Black activism, I was the main character, Starr Carter: attending a private white school and doing her very best to never give anyone a reason to call her “ghetto,” playing by the rules, but going home and finally taking off that facade she put on when she went to school. Though I didn’t grow up in a neighborhood like Garden Heights, there are undeniable parallels between Starr and me that I have never seen represented in a book, movie or TV show before. For the first time, it felt like a part of my life that I was so timid to speak about was being shown to the world because it was more than just my experience. It was the experience of thousands of other Black girls who were put into private schools by their parents who wanted the world for their babies, sacrificing anything to send them to a good school.

Add in that her childhood best friend, Khalil, reminds me of my childhood “brother” who still mocks me for hanging around “white kids who don’t know what real music is” and laughs at my lack of knowledge of remixes he plays when he has the aux cord in the car. The trio of my sister our best friend — who always seemed to get us in trouble – and me: We were Khalil, Natasha and Starr.

I just wish that losing someone close to us at the hand of a gun wasn’t something that Starr and I didn’t have to share, but nonetheless, we do.

Sprinkling in the ignorance of her “friends” who could care less about the blatant mistreatment of the Black community around them because “it doesn’t matter” is also something that I had the misfortune of dealing with through my years in high school. Starr’s character was the closest I had ever come to seeing my life become a part of a conversation bigger than myself and I felt so incredibly proud to be able to have read something so moving and inspiring.

But, imagine my surprise when I found out Amandla Stenberg was going to play Starr in the movie. You’re probably confused as to why, so here’s a visual presentation:

This is the original cover of Starr, dark-skinned and rocking her type-4 fro:

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Here’s what Amandla taking the role of Starr looks like: 

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See the difference?

The thing that stuck out to me most was her skin color. Starr in the book is darker, as she is described as being “a medium brown” shade. Apparently,  it was a decision by Fox Studios to make Starr into someone the shade of Stenberg, who is much lighter skinned than Starr’s original character. Besides Stenberg being the “go-to” Black girl for the rise of many diverse films, her politics are startling to me.

A point of contention right now is role representation and what it means for individual actors and actresses to demonstrate their solidarity against colorism and focusing on representation in Hollywood. Stenberg, known for her many roles in blockbuster hits, could have easily turned down this role like her counterpart Zendaya, who has been rejecting roles that darker-skinned women could only dream of because she knows Hollywood will never budge on casting talented Black women otherwise. But, she took the easy route and played the role in a movie that was destined to propel her career. Can I blame her for wanting to succeed in a white world? No. But I can blame her for taking this role from someone with less exposure than her to accurately portray the girl I saw when I first opened the book.

And don’t me get started on Starr’s original white boyfriend being played by Kian Lawley, who, after filming the movie, was found yelling the n-word in a hidden YouTube video and promptly kicked off the project. I don’t have the energy to give to racist white boys.

Despite the controversy, the content of the movie is what actually matters.

*Spoilers ahead*

Everyone knows that movie adaptations can be, well, terrible. However, the cast fit the characters perfectly from the books and even gave the spotlight to some undiscovered Black actresses and actors, which is something that movies like this should aim to do when discussing topics that affect an entire community of people.

I cried. I didn’t expect to; in fact, I felt like I was going to dislike the way the plot and characters didn’t seem natural. Instead, I found myself immersed in a world that had mirrored my own for so many years of my life that I almost felt violated. To me, the movie focused on the important parts of the Black experience as it did in the novel.

The collision of worlds that were compartmentalized within Starr’s mind falling apart in front of her eyes as she held on so desperately was heart-wrenching. Just like in our eyes, when something that we worked indescribably hard to uphold unravels, picking up the broken pieces to repair them is our first instinct. However, in realizing something of value to our character has fallen apart, there is an acknowledgment that part of ourselves never being the same again.

Starr realizes to move forward with the events in her life, tshe has to push aside her feelings of guilt that have followed her since childhood. Shedding the unsureness and utter fear she encounters as she speaks about the gang violence, police brutality and hatred she and those she has loved faced their entire lives.

As Tupac once said, “The Hate U Give Little Infants Fucks Everyone.” It was more than violence that killed Khalil, it was the very pain that had been passed down from generations of degradation and hatred. Rooted within us as we were forced to leave a place that was once home to a world that considered our lives to be permissible as commodities — to sell, to violate, to kill.

And here we are, functioning in a society that sees us no differently than they did all those generations ago, just less apparent in words as it is in the actions that continue to unravel our very humanity. Peeling away at the innocence that some of us were lucky to have held on to as we became products of a world that did not, and does not, want us.

So yes, this movie made me reflect on my own life, as all good pieces of art should do. However, I can’t help but wonder how much more this movie would have meant to me if I hadn’t seen the very discrimination that prevented a darker-skinned girl from playing the role of Starr win.

And that’s a hard pill to swallow.

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