The Complexity of Black Girlhood Is at the Heart of The Hate U Give

The film adaptation of Angie Thomas’s YA novel offers a startlingly honest portrait of its heroine confronting buried trauma to find her political voice.

This story contains spoilers for The Hate U Give.

Starr Carter slides her feet into her favorite pair of Air Jordans—black retro Space Jam XIs— before hopping into her mother’s car and making the long trek to school. They pass the black-owned grocery stores, restaurants, barber shops, and “project” apartment buildings that line the weathered streets of Garden Heights. As they travel to the suburbs, the scenery transforms into mansions, luxury cars, and white people walking their dogs.

The car stops in front of Starr’s ritzy private high school, Williamson Prep. She says goodbye to her mother and morphs into who she calls “Starr version two.” This Starr doesn’t speak with hood slang; she’s mild-mannered and non-confrontational, and always has a warm smile, even for the rich white students who make fried-chicken jokes around her.

The only other things that survive the transition from “Garden Heights Starr” to “Williamson Starr” are her Jordans, the shoes that earn her style points in both places. Otherwise, “I gotta keep it separate,” Starr the narrator informs viewers. “That means flipping the switch in my brain.”

At its core, The Hate U Give is a meditation on the toll of “code switching”—or moving between multiple social identities, depending on the context—for black girls in particular.

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