On Oct. 5, a new movie based on Angie Thomas’ 2017 young-adult novel, The Hate U Give, hits select theaters. As Thomas' book does, the movie also follows a 16-year-old girl named Starr Carter (Amandla Stenberg) after she witnesses her childhood friend Khalil (Algee Smith), be shot by a police officer who had pulled them over. Khalil's death resembles so many of the real life unarmed black men who have been shot by police officers during encounters, and Thomas has revealed that Starr from The Hate U Give is based on a real person too — sort of.
While neither Khalil nor Starr's experiences are completely accurate to those of any real people, Thomas has explained that they were both inspired by a tragic event from 2019, when a police officer shot 22 year-old Oscar Grant in Oakland. In August, Thomas described her reaction to hearing the news about Grant to The Los Angeles Times. "In my anger and frustration, I wrote a short story about a boy named Khalil who was a lot like Oscar and a girl named Starr who was a lot like me," the author said. That short story became the YA novel, The Hate U Give, which gets its title from the Tupac's acronym "T.H.U.G.L.I.F.E.," or "The Hate U Give Little Infants F*cks Everybody."
That Thomas used her own life as inspiration for Starr doesn't mean she experienced the same traumatic events that play out in The Hate U Give. Rather, Thomas used the fragmented identities she'd had as a teen when creating her novel's protagonist. In a 2017 interview with NPR, Thomas explained how the "two Starrs," or dual-identities, is a relatable concept for her. "I went to a mostly white upper-class private college here in Jackson, but I was from a neighborhood that is known for all of the wrong reasons and, for lack of better words, we will call it the hood," Thomas said.
Starr has a similarly disjointed high school experience to Thomas', which the author describes to NPR, saying, "[Khalil's] case becomes national news, putting a dichotomy in Starr's life into even greater relief. She lives in Garden Heights, the gang-ravaged neighborhood... but she goes to school at Williamson Prep, where she's only one of a handful of black kids."
Even before the tragic events that transpire in The Hate U Give, Starr already had experienced what's known as code switching, or the modifying of one's language to fit in with two different groups. Thomas told NPR, "I absolutely have experience with it." And in The Hate U Give, not only does Starr grapple with her schoolmates' differences in dialect, but she then must come to terms with the racist underbelly among her prep school's community, which gets exposed in the wake of Khalil's murder.
Thomas told NPR that the conflicting views of the trial in The Hate U Give also come from her real-life observations. "And at the time when [Oscar Grant's] death was making headlines, more people were talking about what he had done in his past than the fact that he unjustly lost his life. And at my school, I heard a different conversation than I may have heard in my neighborhood about Oscar," Thomas said.
A similar difference in opinions that Thomas saw plays a big part of Starr's story. Just as Thomas did with The Hate U Give, Starr finds a way to use what she learned from the tragedy to help improve the world.