Heavy truths about race relations and equally chaotic adolescence collide in George Tillman Jr.’s (“Luke Cage,” “The Longest Ride”) newest young adult film adapted from Angie Thomas’ best-selling novel.
Starring Amandla Stenberg (“The Hunger Games,” “Everything, Everything”), “The Hate U Give” tackles topics of police brutality, racism and gang violence with a touch of romance, humor and family values.
“The Hate U Give” was showcased at this year’s Chicago International Film Festival Oct. 11.
After attending an advanced screening of the film and taking part in a college roundtable, The Phoenix had the opportunity to speak with Tillman about his involvement in the project, racism, authenticity and the challenges of telling Thomas’ story in his own vision.
After a white police officer kills her best friend in front of her, the protagonist, Starr Carter (Stenberg) must grieve and honor his memory. Throughout the film, Starr navigates her way through the gang-infested neighborhood she lives in while attending a mostly white preparatory school.
While staying silent about the injustice she witnessed would’ve been easy for her, Starr decides to speak up for what she believes in and finds herself caught in the middle of a media spectacle that endangers everything she knows and loves.
Despite dealing with race and police brutality, audiences shouldn’t feel polarized by this film, Tillman said.
“The movie is really about human experience and that’s what I wanted to tell,” Tillman said. “It’s not to make a political movie but to make an experience of a family and a young girl.”
Tillman said telling the film’s story was a challenge, especially when trying to adapt Thomas’ novel in his own voice.
“Capturing the spirit of the book was the most difficult, because it had a very specific voice,” Tillman said. “Angie’s voice was very specific in the story, and we wanted to make sure that we caught the same voice and dialogue and the two worlds are completely different as well, so that was one of the biggest challenges.”
Tillman said his goal for the movie was to make “The Hate U Give” feel as real as possible, carefully bringing Thomas’ vision of the story into reality.
“In the story that I wanted to tell, which is the story of Starr’s voice [and Starr] finding her voice, and at times to find her voice she changes those around her,” Tillman said. “So when you look at all those things, one of the characters, DeVante that was in the book, we felt like maybe we could just lose this character. We just said, ‘Hey I wanna maybe get rid of him,’ and she was okay with that, so those were some of the major things that I did. So those are some of the things we did to make the adaptation work.”
While the novel and film are essentially part of the young adult genre, there’s a palpable authenticity to Thomas’ narrative which really sets the book apart. This is what Tillman Jr. said made him get involved in the project.
“I read about thirty pages and I was just blown away,” Tillman said. “I really liked the dialogue, most of anything, because it felt like I never heard anybody talk like this in a manuscript or a book that came to me in Hollywood. Hollywood tends to have the same story. Same scenes, same dialogue in just different genres. And it’s a little boring that you have to work on your own material and find your own material.”
“The Hate U Give” premiered in limited theaters Oct. 5 and will hit theaters nationwide Oct. 19.