20th Century Fox provided The Quad with an opportunity too good to pass up last week: an advance screening of “The Hate U Give,” a new YA drama based on the eponymous best-selling novel by Angie Thomas—complete with red carpet and round table interviews with actor Algee Smith. The experience was nothing short of a whirlwind. After sitting in traffic for an additional two hours (there was an unattended car sitting in the middle of the highway, doors ajar, several blocked off exits, a Phillies game AND an Ed Sheeran concert), we took our seats in a theatre packed with media and lucky guests. The following contains our impressions of the film and interview.
For those unaware of Thomas’s work, “The Hate U Give” is a story about Starr Carter, a young woman who feels stuck between her home, the poor, mostly black neighborhood of Garden Heights and her school— the wealthy, mostly white prep school of Williamson. Early in the film, Starr witnesses a police officer shoot and kill her childhood friend Khalil, played by Smith.
Needless to say, tensions ran high throughout the film. Thomas began writing in 2009, after the fatal shooting of Oscar Grant, and continued to inform her novel from the tragedy and protests surrounding the shootings of Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Philando Castile and more. The subject and message present in the novel ring true in the film. Alex caught himself tensing his entire body, cementing himself to his seat for the back half of the film, intently absorbing the film and the engaged reactions of the audience.
By and large, we were incredibly impressed with the sincerity, honesty and realism that 20th Century Fox committed throughout the film. The acting felt raw, and detail oriented—a quality Smith credits to director George Tillman Jr. Russel Hornsby’s performance as Starr’s father, Maverick, stood out as particularly eager, earnest and refreshing. The cinematography and lighting rarely deviated from conventional Hollywood standards, but the typical seamlessness of those techniques allowed the movie to stay explicitly focused on subject matter.
While parts of the exposition and resolution felt rushed and clichéd compared to the rest of the film— which partially damaged the message of the persistent struggle within the film—several poignant moments left a clear imprint on the audience, lasting the whole movie (Khalil’s death and funeral among them). However, the narrative’s eventual message and central theme of hope inspires viewers to speak out like Starr, and to use their power of voice and name.
The movie and book are arriving at an important moment for the public. “The Hate U Give” releases on October 5, a month and a day before elections. We highly encourage everyone to approach the film with an open mind and the intent to learn.
As the final credits began rolling, we discovered that actor Algee Smith, who masterfully portrayed Khalil, had paid us a surprise visit. In a red-carpet event hosted by 20th Century Fox, we got the chance to briefly interview Smith. When asked what he hopes students take away from the film, he encouraged us “not be afraid to use [our] voice.” “This is our world,” Smith said, and “there’s a lot going on in the world right now that we need to be speaking on as young individuals coming up.” Smith also reminded us of “the kids coming up” and that “this is their world too,” and thus echoed the film’s and Tupac Shakur’s message about how “The Hate U Give Little Infants F–ks Everybody.”
When questioned about the film’s production, Smith recalled director George Tillman Jr.’s meticulous creative process. Smith said that Tillman “pays so much attention to detail, it’s kind of creepy.” Tillman sat Smith and Stenberg across from each other, and “whisper[ed] in [Smith’s] ear: ‘Okay, Khalil, how does Starr feel when you say this,’ or ‘Tell Starr this.’” Smith called Tillman “incredible” and “beyond genius.”
The following day, we were lucky enough to participate in a university press roundtable with Smith at the Logan Hotel in Philadelphia. There, Smith addressed questions about the film, social justice and his career as an actor and a musician.
Smith showed nothing but enthusiasm for the film and even said that he “[could not] think of anything that [he] would change” about it. He praised the narrative’s exploration of multiple perspectives, including a police officer’s. Smith emphasized the film’s portrayal of police brutality and the media’s typical response to such tragedies; he celebrated the film’s “no sugarcoating” approach and applauded 20th Century Fox for allowing the film to stay true to its source material. “[The film] is saying something that hits the heart,” Smith noted – there is a “message within the art.”
On behalf of WCU’s mostly white student body, Alex asked Smith’s advice on becoming a better ally. Smith said that he does not ask white people to fully understand what facing systemic racism is like (neither does he believe that white people can fully understand the situation), but he believes that white privilege can be utilized positively to “speak out” against oppression and “to cause some type of change.” Smith also endorsed the deconstruction of stereotypes. He responded to the popular excuse of, “how do I relate if I have never been through this?” by saying that “you relate because you still have a voice … to speak about things that aren’t right in the world,” and “because there might be somebody that follows you that does not follow [Smith], that needs to hear that.”
Smith said that the film’s “connection … to Tupac,” “the timeliness of the film” and the book’s popularity attracted him to the role of Khalil. When asked what other character in the film he would be interested in playing, Smith chose Maverick, the father. Smith described the character as “the representation of a real black man that we don’t see all the time on-screen” who “[instills] positive things into his kids.”
Toward the end of our session, Smith informed us on his career goals. He said that “[he] feel[s] great about [his] music” but that he “has to really prove [himself] with the music.” Smith also told us that his album will hopefully be released soon after “The Hate U Give,” and he announced that he is working on a short film which will accompany the album and will explore the “leap of faith” that Smith took when he moved from Atlanta to Los Angeles.
Alexander Schmidt is a graduate with a degree in English with a minor in communications studies. AS849426@wcupa.edu
Chris Sassaris is a fourth-year English major with a minor in computer science. PS868710@wcupa.edu