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Angie Thomas And George Tillman Jr. On How Their Own Life Experiences Inspired ‘The Hate U Give’

The author and director of "The Hate U Give" reflect on how it was inspired by their personal experiences.

In conversation, NPR’s Ailsa Chang sat down with Angie Thomas, the acclaimed author of The Hate U Give, and the movie’s director George Tillman Jr., to discuss how the book and film connected with their own personal experiences.

The Hate U Give tells the story of a teenage girl, Starr Carter (Amandla Stenberg), who is a part of two worlds: the poor, predominantly black neighborhood where she resides, and the white, affluent prep school that she attends. Her worlds are turned upside down when she witnesses the fatal police shooting of her childhood friend, an unarmed black male teenager. Following the tragic shooting, Starr is drawn towards a life of activism to stand up for her friend, who is called a “thug” and other misinformed names by the media, and to protest the wrongful actions of police brutality.

George Tillman Jr., the director of the film, spoke with Chang about what it was like to base certain scenes from the movie on actual talks he received growing up. He discussed how emotional it was to bring these scenes to life, particularly because he now has a teenage son himself. “This deals with history,” he said. “This deals with survival and how we can continue to stay on this earth without police brutality or being shot or being killed. You know, this is part of the fear of the African-American community.”

Another significant theme in the book is how Starr navigates between her two worlds, and how she feels an internal pressure to erase her blackness while at her fancy prep school with her white classmates. Certainly, many of us can relate to this uneasy pressure growing up or currently in the workplace, and this double life is actually based on author Angie Thomas’s life experiences.  

Growing up, Thomas also lived in a mostly black neighborhood while attending a predominantly white, private college in Mississippi. She described her own experiences as a struggle, and practiced the art of code switching. “I would make myself more presentable I thought. I was careful of how I spoke. I was careful of how much emotion I showed,” Thomas said. “And it was a struggle because so often I was silent on things that mattered to me. And I would experience microaggressions from my classmates, and I was silent about them. I never called out the racism.”

And indeed there was racism. Thomas described a time during a Christmas party where her gift was a prescription drug book with a toy water gun. A classmate remarked, “Oh, my God, the black girl from the ghetto got the drug book and the gun – how funny.” As laughter ensued, Thomas joined in, though angry at herself for not speaking up. She described that moment as a turning point, and that she would never be silent again in the face of racism or injustice.  

Thomas also discussed why she decided to write the story through the eyes of a teenager. “The first reason for me was because so often, victims in these cases are teenagers. They’re young people,” she told Chang. “Trayvon Martin was 17. Tamir Rice was 12. And I think about those kids who look at them and see themselves, and I wanted to talk to them first and foremost.”

Furthermore, she believed that the audience would be more likely to emphasize with a 16-year-old girl than a 30-year-old woman.

“There is something about getting it from the perspective of someone who has so much innocence, who has so little experience. You literally witness this girl become a woman. You see her forced into adulthood because of her trauma,” said Thomas. “And I think there’s something about that. At least for adults, there’s something about seeing a child go through this. And my hope was that people will look at real-life 16-year-olds in these cases and actually see them as children and not as adults.”

The Hate U Give is now playing in select theaters, and will be released nationwide on October 19th. Listen to the conversation in full below.

 

Ayanna Winters

Hi! I’m Ayanna Winters, a 25-year-old editorial writer and artist. Although I graduated from The University of North Carolina at Charlotte with two degrees in art and psychology, I’ve had a passion for writing for as long as I can remember. By following my dreams and utilizing my creativity, I designed Jaro Magazine with the ultimate intention of bringing more positive stories in the black community to the forefront, while also highlighting our versatile and vibrant culture through Jaro’s four modes: film, books, art, and music. I’m into spirituality, nature walks, music festivals, poetry, traveling without a destination in mind, painting, and discussing everything out of the ordinary with other curious minds. Also, I'm an INFP!

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