4 December 2018

‘The Hate U Give’

Mel Lacy


‘The Hate U Give’ is one of the latest Hollywood blockbusters to hit our cinema screens, but in lots of ways it might feel pretty alien to those of you reading this.

It’s a teen movie about a black girl growing up in a very rough neighbourhood in an American city, tracing her personal struggles and issues of systemic racism, through the fallout of the tragic loss of one of her closest friends, who is shot by a police officer who mistook his hairbrush for a firearm. While much of this might feel distant, this movie is incredibly relevant as it shines a spotlight directly onto worldview; it is all about how you feel about who you are and how you fit in this world.

The main character Starr has experienced some really terrible things in her life. Her father spent time in prison for gang involvement and that same gang culture is ever-present in her community. When she was ten another of her best friends was accidentally killed in a drive by shooting, which leads her parents to send her to a wealthy private school. Starr is incredibly aware of how her community has shaped her into the person she is. Crucially though, her worldview has not just been formed as she has absorbed it from the world around her. Her parents, particularly her father, have laboured to teach her and her brothers about who they are. Her father effectively catechises his kids; in one scene he sits his three children down at the table – one 10, one 11 and one still a baby – and speaks to them about what to do if the police pull them over. He gives them each the Black panther ten point programme, and insists they memorise it. He later makes them recite one of the points from memory in a time of real difficulty.

The film is beautifully self-aware and honest about its worldview narrative. Indeed the title itself is a worldview statement, taken from Tupac’s lyric THUG LIFE, as explained in the film. Tupac said that the phrase THUG LIFE stood for ‘The Hate U Give Little Infants F—- Everything’. The key point is that the world that children grow up intimately shapes who they grow up to become, and in the case in this story, the hate children receive causes them to grow up angry and only further exacerbates the divisions within the culture.

As the film continues it transpires that Starr is effectively living a double-life. Every day she travels across the city to attend a predominantly white middle class suburban high school where she cultivates a totally different person, making friends she would never spend time with at home. As the various acts of the film play out, the centrality of worldview is thrown into sharper and sharper focus. After the death of her friend Khalid, an event to which she is the only witness, Starr begins to explore who she is more deeply, and as her worlds begin to collide her double-life becomes impossible to continue.

One of the most fascinating relationships in the film is between Starr and her best friend at school, Hailey. Hailey is an incredibly wealthy white girl who has been raised in a very different way to her friend. As the story continues, their relationship declines because they cannot both make sense of the events they are facing in the same way. Hailey’s upbringing has formed her worldview in such a way that she simply cannot see things from Starr’s perspective, not matter how much she wants to. Worldviews are simple to build, but incredibly difficult to change, and Hailey reveals this to us powerfully.

You can almost hear the voices of the director and the author of the book the film is based on begging the viewer to reflect on their own assumptions and presuppositions about who they are and how the world works. This film isn’t a comfortable watch as it forces awkward self reflection into just how accepting of others we might actually be, regardless of whether we think we are or not.

I really recommend seeing this film, not for its main story, but to see how the worldviews of the characters affect the way they act, move and interact. It should also help those of us working with children and young people to see just how inescapable worldview is, and how far reaching its impact is.

I really recommend seeing this film, not for its main story, but to see how the worldviews of the characters affect the way they act, move and interact...

One of the most helpful things this film articulates is the way that worldview is simultaneously received passively from the world around us, and deliberately constructed within us. This should encourage those of us working with children and young people to work harder to see what worldviews are at play in the hearts of those we are ministering to, to probe deeper into them, to challenge where we must, and to encourage the good. Moreover, since parents have a massive impact on the way their children think and understand who they are, this film also challenges parents to think about actively constructing a biblical worldview in the hearts and minds of their children, not just passively letting the world around them do it for them.