'The Hate U Give' Star Says The Novel Was Like 'Reading My Own Diary' Like protagonist Starr Carter, Amandla Stenberg grew up in a black neighborhood, but attended an overwhelmingly white school. She stars in the adaptation of the novel about a fatal police shooting.
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'The Hate U Give' Star Says The Novel Was Like 'Reading My Own Diary'

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'The Hate U Give' Star Says The Novel Was Like 'Reading My Own Diary'

'The Hate U Give' Star Says The Novel Was Like 'Reading My Own Diary'

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

In the new movie "The Hate U Give," Amandla Stenberg plays the protagonist Starr Carter. She's a teenager who knows how to code switch. She lives in a struggling, predominately black neighborhood, but she goes to school at the private, affluent, mostly white Williamson Prep.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE HATE U GIVE")

AMANDLA STENBERG: (As Starr Carter) That means flipping a switch in my brain. Williamson Starr doesn't use slang. If a rapper would say it, she doesn't, even if her white friends do.

MARTIN: NPR's Elizabeth Blair spoke with actor Amandla Stenberg about what it was like to play a teenager who's trying to find her voice in the midst of trauma.

ELIZABETH BLAIR, BYLINE: Like a lot of teenagers, Starr Carter defines herself partly through the music she loves. Amandla Stenberg says, take the first time we see Starr onscreen.

STENBERG: "DNA" by Kendrick Lamar is playing, which is really evocative of who she is.

BLAIR: Why?

STENBERG: Because she loves her blackness.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DNA")

KENDRICK LAMAR: (Rapping) I got - I got - I got - I got loyalty, got royalty inside my DNA. [Expletive] quarter piece, got war and peace inside my DNA.

BLAIR: "The Hate U Give" zooms in on what happens to a family traumatized by the death of a neighborhood boy, Starr's childhood friend Khalil. One night, the two of them were pulled over by a white police officer. Khalil was unarmed when the police officer shot him. "The Hate U Give" is based on the book of the same name by novelist Angie Thomas. Last year, she told NPR she was inspired to write it after the shooting death of Oscar Grant by a transit officer in Oakland. Grant was unarmed at the time he was killed. Thomas says she was struck by the media coverage.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

ANGIE THOMAS: More people were talking about what he had done in his past than the fact that he unjustly lost his life.

BLAIR: Like Starr, Angie Thomas also grew up code switching, and so did Amandla Stenberg. Stenberg says she devoured Thomas's book.

STENBERG: Reading the book starts to become this kind of strange spiritual thing because it started to feel like I was reading my own diary.

BLAIR: Would you mind reading a little bit from the book?

STENBERG: Sure. (Reading) I've seen it happen over and over again - a black person gets killed just for being black and all hell breaks loose. I've tweeted RIP hashtags, reblogged pictures on Tumblr and signed every petition out there. I always said that if I saw it happen to somebody, I would have the loudest voice, making sure the world knew what went down. Now I am that person, and I'm too afraid to speak.

BLAIR: Starr's father is having none of it. He wants his children to fight to be heard. In one emotional scene, he makes them recite the Black Panthers' a 10-point program.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE HATE U GIVE")

STENBERG: (As Starr Carter) We want an immediate end to police brutality.

RUSSELL HORNSBY: (As Maverick 'Mav' Carter) Finish it.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) And the murder of black people and people of color and oppressed people.

HORNSBY: (As Maverick 'Mav' Carter) By what means?

STENBERG: (As Starr Carter) By any means necessary.

HORNSBY: (As Maverick 'Mav' Carter) By what means?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character)By any means necessary.

HORNSBY: (As Maverick 'Mav' Carter) By what means?

STENBERG: (As Starr Carter) By any means necessary.

HORNSBY: (As Maverick 'Mav' Carter) So why you going to be quiet?

BLAIR: Without giving too much away, Starr eventually does find the courage to speak up. At a recent screening of "The Hate U Give" for D.C.-area high schools at the Smithsonian, 16-year-old Tiana Minor says there is truth to this movie.

TIANA MINOR: It really opened people's eyes about real-life problems that I guess people try to overlook in society or try to, I guess, like, sugar coat and make them not seem as bad as they really are.

BLAIR: Minor's classmate, Devon Lewis (ph), says he could relate to Starr's reluctance to speak up.

DEVON LEWIS: She wants to talk but she can't because she just doesn't have that voice yet. And then once she got the voice, it was just like, boom.

BLAIR: Lewis said he liked learning that her father named her Starr for light. It's a detail actor Amandla Stenberg likes, too.

STENBERG: I think that's something that's so beautiful about black culture is we give our children power in their names. My name actually means power in Zulu and Xhosa. And it was something that my mom was very intentional with. You know, I think we recognize that it's a tough world out there, and so we give our children names that they can use as superpowers.

BLAIR: This notion of what you give your children is referenced in the title of the book and the movie "The Hate U Give." It's from Tupac Shakur's philosophy - thug life. The hate you give little infants Fs everybody. And as Stenberg says, the love you give is even more powerful. Elizabeth Blair, NPR News.

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