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‘The Hate U Give’ tackles race, policing and a teen girl’s two worlds

In “The Hate U Give,” Amandla Stenberg plays teen Starr Carter who witnesses a white officer kill her best friend. Carter struggles to grieve and find her voice while navigating her poor, mostly black neighborhood and her mostly white prep school. Jeffrey Brown talks to Stenberg, director George Tillman Jr. and author Angie Thomas who wrote the best-selling book on which the film is based.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Finally, I think we'd all agree it's a turbulent time in American life, with many of the issues we're grappling with appearing in a place we often go to escape, the movies.

    Tonight, Jeffrey Brown starts our occasional series, Fall Films, with a film that explores race and policing through a new lens.

  • Amandla Stenberg:

    Man, you coming at me for my music, but you listen to this old stuff.

  • Actor:

    Old stuff?

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    It's a story straight from the headlines, two young black people in a car at night pulled over by the police.

  • Actor:

    Out of the car.

  • Amandla Stenberg:

    Go back where he told you. I'm not playing. Go back where…

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    A young man shot and killed.

  • Amandla Stenberg:

    What did you do?

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    The new drama "The Hate U Give" is fiction, but based on now all-too-familiar cases around the country.

    Amandla Stenberg plays Starr Carter, who witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend, Khalil.

  • Amandla Stenberg:

    I think we had understanding on set that what we were portraying wasn't just contrived, or it wasn't just fiction, but that it was real and reflective of real events and reflective of real pain and real trauma.

  • Russell Hornsby:

    Maybe I made a mistake driving him. Maybe I didn't do nothing at all. You are going to see me with my hands like this on the dashboard. Go on.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Part of that reality, the talk the father played by Russell Hornsby gives his children on what to do when confronted by police.

  • Russell Hornsby:

    Now, you keep your hands posted, because moving makes the police get all nervous.

    Director George Tillman Jr., whose previous films include "Soul Food" and the "Barbershop" series, said this one was different.

  • George Tillman Jr.:

    As a director working in Los Angeles and working in Hollywood, there's entertainment — entertainment, there's commerce, and then there's films where you got — you have a chance to say something.

    And, usually, those films are like smaller. And I just feel like it was my responsibility as a filmmaker to tell this story.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    The film is based on a bestselling book for young adults, the story of a young woman living between two worlds, her working-class largely black neighborhood, where she's one star, and the mostly white prep school where she dates a white student, where she's another.

    Author Angie Thomas grew up with that experience of code-switching.

  • Angie Thomas:

    I wanted to talk about black girls, what it's like to be a young black woman in a society that sometimes says you're not enough or you're too much. How do you navigate those spaces, knowing those things?

    So Starr is very careful of who she is where she is. When she's in her neighborhood, she can't act too white. When she's at her school, she can't act too black. So she feels as if she has to put herself in a box in both of these worlds and make herself acceptable to those around her.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Nineteen-year-old actress Amandla Stenberg, previously known from "The Hunger Games" and other roles, says she too grew up between two worlds.

  • Amandla Stenberg:

    I think, early on, that kind of gave me this sense of, oh, it's not OK to show up as my full authentic self in certain spaces. And I need to learn how to adapt to that space. And I think, in some ways, it was detrimental. In some ways, it's just an inherent part of being a person of color.

    But I think it wasn't until I was older that I was able to kind of marry those identities and understand that they were both really beautiful parts of me, and it was OK to be myself.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    The shooting in the film comes after gunfire at a party when an officer stops Starr and Khalil in their car and shoots him, thinking the hairbrush he's reaching for is a gun.

    In the aftermath, Starr's life spins out of control, as tensions rise at home, at school, and in her neighborhood.

    The title of both book and film came from the words of rapper Tupac Shakur, who himself died a violent death in 1996.

  • Amandla Stenberg:

    It's thug life, the hate you give little infants.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Russell Hornsby:

    Everybody. I know what it stands for. What do you think it means?

  • Amandla Stenberg:

    I think it's about us.

  • Russell Hornsby:

    Us who?

  • Amandla Stenberg:

    Black people, poor people, everybody at the bottom.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Other adults in Starr's life include her uncle, a black policeman played by the rapper and actor Common.

  • Common:

    We live in a complicated world.

  • Amandla Stenberg:

    It doesn't seem that complicated to me.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    A community organizer is played by Issa Rae.

  • Issa Rae:

    Violence, brutality, it's the same story, just a different name.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Director Tillman says he studied real-life cases and their aftermaths to present an honest portrait.

  • George Tillman Jr.:

    I felt like we were doing the right thing in just honoring them. So, all that research and all that time speaking and talking to all these organizations, it was all just about to make it feel right.

    For example, the uprising, the protests, I mean, that was six days, six nights that we shot that, but it took us, like, months and months looking at Ferguson and looking at what is important.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    All involved told us they wanted to offer a nuanced view of both black and white communities, and a story not anti-police, but anti-police brutality.

    For her part, Amandla Stenberg has used her celebrity on social media as a kind of megaphone on the issues of concern to her, including the Black Lives Matter movement. She sees her acting in the same light.

  • Amandla Stenberg:

    For me, my artistry is always driven by a desire to create representation and humanize marginalized groups. If that manifests projects like "The Hate U Give," it's the hugest blessing, because that's exactly what I want to do.

    And I think we're able to do that through the film. That's kind of the only way I'm interested in being a part of this industry. I think media completely shapes how we think. It shapes how we think about other groups of people who we don't have the personal experience with to empathize with.

  • Russell Hornsby:

    When you are ready to talk, you talk.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Stenberg and Tillman told us they're eager to reach young people with "The Hate U Give" and worked to secure a PG-13 rating for the film.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Jeffrey Brown.

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