Last year, Angie Thomas’ debut film, “The Hate U Give,” was adapted into a Hollywood film, starring Amandla Stenberg and starr Angie Thomas’s journey from one page to the next took a detour.
After grossing more than $32 million at the box office, as Thomas prepares to release her second novel, On the Come Up, the New York Times bestselling author chats with us about developing The Hate U Give in honor of its recent release on DVD. Release, and Blu-ray.
The Knockturnal: Can you talk about the decision to have the speaker/protagonist be the teenage girl who finally describes the black experience in America, as opposed to choosing Seven’s point of view or Maverick’s point of view, who was imprisoned and made his children do for tragic events ready?
Angie Thomas: It was very important to me to make this book from the perspective of a 16-year-old black girl. When we discuss police brutality and even racial profiling, we often don’t discuss how it affects black girls and how they are often targeted. I remember when I was drafting this book, there were two incidents a few months apart, a pool party where young ladies in Texas were at a pool party, one of them was thrown on the ground by the police, and the other was An incident happened at the school, I have forgotten what state it was, a young lady was caught by the security guard at the school and threw it on the ground. So we rarely talk about these things with black girls. We don’t pay much attention to them, I understand, because black boys are affected so much. But I want to talk about this specifically with black girls, and I want to empower them. In fact, in many of our movements, the core of these movements, their roots, are black women. Black women started the Black Lives Matter movement and then joined the civil rights movement. Black women have been at the heart of these movements and have launched them in a number of ways. So for me, it just feels right. If not for nothing else, I want to empower a new generation of black women to find their voice, find their activism and keep it going.
The Knockturnal: With footage of Oscar Grant and Philando Castilla being murdered and many others killed by police, how helpful is it to get actual footage? Do you think it helps generate the way the story is told? the hatred you give From the point of view of wanting to respect the very real and tragic narrative of police brutality? To what extent is it a disadvantage?
Angie Thomas: Well, you know, it’s a win-win situation for me. On the one hand, it feels like we need video proof, and then even if we have video proof, it can’t do anything about it. Let’s go back to 1992, Rodney King was taped and they still got away with it. Then we see Oscar, and his death is recorded. Then we saw Philando, some of his deaths were recorded, and yet, we still didn’t get justice. So after a while, it felt like we were almost going numb. I said, we, especially with black people, we don’t have to put it in front of us because we know what’s going to happen. I knew things like Oscar Grant before I watched the video because I heard stories from my own family and friends and I believed they were outrageous. It feels like if nothing else, these videos are pretty much needed to show non-Black people who believe in us when we say this is happening. It’s a shame to have to say that, but that’s how it feels.As for those videos and similar evidence, fueling the hatred you give, to be honest, I could have written this book without seeing these videos. Just because you know these are what actually happened, and in Mississippi, have been hearing stories. I have friends and family members who have suffered police brutality without video. On the other hand, I have family members who work in law enforcement and they tell me what happened to their colleagues. For me, I don’t need to have a video to write this story. The way I got inspiration from the Oscar Grant case was when I attended my mostly white, upper-class private school. I am angry, frustrated and hurt by his death, and many of my classmates have tried to justify it. So, for me, that’s what really drives my writing. They saw the video too, just like me, but they still didn’t realize the young man was the victim. So for me, that’s why I wrote this story. Without the video, they’d still have the same mentality, and I’d probably still write about it.
The Knockturnal: There’s a scene in the movie where Starr is being interviewed and she explains that everyone wants to highlight Khalil’s bad history, but no one talks about Khalil as a victim. Can you talk about some of the decisions you made while writing that were a way to help humanize Khalil that others might otherwise dispute?
Angie Thomas: certainly. When I wrote this book, I thought a lot about the young people in my neighborhood and what some of them like to do with them, which is not right. But I also know that if they were victims in this situation, they would still be portrayed as villains. Black people, especially young black people, never benefit from doubt. We see what happens when young white kids make mistakes and are downright racist, but they still get sympathy through the mass media. Black kids don’t understand. Even if we were victims, they would show our mugshots. So I thought a lot while writing this book, and I hope Khalil isn’t perfect. Sometimes there is an assumption: “If he’s a good student, if he’s not in trouble, then we need to be angry about it.” No! If it was a young man, like Khalil, who was selling drugs because he wanted to help his family, he felt like he had no choice. Why does he feel like he has no other choice? Because of the established system. So, he fell into the trap set by the system. So why should we blame him so much and deprive him of the value of his life? For me, that’s the question I really want to ask, and then I want people to think about, how does the media play a role in that and play a role in vilifying young black people? Why do we see mugshots of these young men when they are killed and know their history before we know anything about the shooter? So I definitely want to bring this up and address it and hopefully get people to think a little bit more, maybe even members of the media, and how they portray us when we’re victims rather than showing us as villains.
The Knockturnal: Starr’s boyfriend, Chris, has a somewhat mature moment in the movie when he decides to help save Starr’s family during the riot. Where did the inspiration for his character come from?
Angie Thomas: Chris is inspired by people I really know. I would say, like Chris, he didn’t “wake up” in the first place, and I keep saying that; Chris didn’t wake up. Even at the end of the movie, Chris doesn’t wake up. Chris was drowsy. He still has a long way to go before he wakes up. Through his character, I want to show the beginning of a good ally. People keep throwing out the word, “ally, ally, ally.” In the end, he’s still not a 100% good ally. He still has a long way to go. Honestly, allies are not the end goal. The ultimate goal is for the conspirators, if they have to, even for the benefit of others who are doing it, to use their privilege to be at the forefront in order to advance this work. So with Chris, I thought about the real-life Chris I know, as a very privileged man, one of the most privileged people you’ll find in America: white, straight, cis and rich. He must realize that he has this privilege. Then he has to listen to the voices of the marginalized, understand what’s going on around him, and then realize how he can use his privilege for good. So Chris was inspired, and I hope that through Chris’ character, privileged people can recognize themselves and recognize that they have a responsibility to use that privilege to solve problems. Black people don’t make racism. Latinos, Native Americans, we didn’t create racism. Therefore, it is not our responsibility to address racism. The onus on addressing racism lies with whites. So I hope that through Chris, they can at least see how to start this journey.
The Knockturnal: At one point, Carlos described his views as a police officer and the choices he made to defend the officer. Have you received any backlash against his views?
Angie Thomas: You sure know that scene…I personally haven’t gotten to it, but I’m sure someone has a lot to say about it. When I talk about this scene, I always tell people, for me, that scene is not about Carlos explaining what the police think and what they do, because the truth is, we know it all. These are the things we’ve been hearing in the media, we’ve been getting the police’s point of view. We will never get victims. To me, the important thing about Carlos’ scene is that he is aware of his inner biases. It’s about him realizing he’s been put into a system that also makes him biased against people who look like him. To me, it’s about him recognizing that, and even Starr is starting to recognize someone she loves so dearly, who cherishes so much in her life, and who has such an important part of her life , may fall into this mentality, trap, and fall into prejudice against black people. We always hear “their thoughts”, but to me that scene was about Carlos recognizing his own inherent biases.
The Knockturnal: What’s the next chapter for Sekani, who ends up pointing a gun at King given the series of events he saw his family go through as a child? Based on this conclusion, what will the future of Sekani look like if the story continues?
Angie Thomas: I think Sekani is one of those characters, and if I do a sequel… people always ask me “Will I do a sequel?” I have no plans right now, but if I do one, it will be about him. In the book, the family leaves the community, and in the film, they stay. Anyway, I guess what effect this will have on him. Also, he grew up in the shadow of his sister, witnessed it all, saw it all. I would see Sekani growing up — first, he was forced to grow up too fast, like so many young black kids. That scene at the end of the movie, if nothing else, is the unfortunate moment when this young man is forced to grow up the way he shouldn’t. He was forced to do it quickly in a way he shouldn’t, like so many of our black kids. So I see him growing up more aware of these things. He’s only eight years old in the movie, but by the time he’s twelve, he’s learned a lot about police brutality, and he also knows there’s a system against him, it doesn’t do justice for people like him, and it’s something he has to things to carry. I saw that he was very clear and aware of these things. But after that moment, he will never be the same again. But I don’t think on the positive side he’s going to be who he is, and I think at some point he’s going to find his voice in it all. In fact, society does not define his values, but he does. So I think that’s what’s going to happen to him after all this is over.
The Knockturnal: Your work translates so well on screen, would you consider screenwriting or filmmaking?
Angie Thomas: No doubt this is the goal at some point. This is definitely what I want to pursue. I want to tell the stories of black girls in as many mediums as possible. So it’s definitely something on Angie Thomas’ list.
Kristin Martin provided reporting.