Ava DuVernay, “The Hate U Give” Cast Talk Code-Switching In Black Life

The ensemble cast and respected director discuss the ins and outs of a film some are already calling Oscar-worthy.

At this point, director Ava DuVernay is one of the top names in filmmaking just 10 years after releasing her first offering to a large audience. So you bet your knitted kufe that she knows more about film and directing than 95 percent of the people you’ll talk to on a day-to-day basis. “The Hate U Give”, based on the novel by Angie Thomas and directed by George Tillman Jr, is already gaining a considerable amount of accolades in limited screenings nationwide.

DuVernay sat with the Tillman Jr, as well as lead Amandla Stenberg and supporting actor Algee Smith to discuss the nuances of the film as well the inherent messages it presents to the viewing audience, both black and white. Ava, who’s currently working on the Netflix docu-series Central Park Five, started out as a journalist way back in the day, so she knows her way around an interview from both perspectives.

Why The Hate U Give Is Amandla Stenberg’s Best Role To Date
Amandla Stenberg is no longer a rising star but a bankable box office name at the age of 20-years old. Appearing in both fan-favorite and critically acclaimed films alike, Stenberg’s role in The Hate U Give is easily her best yet.

Ava DuVernay: I love it how the three of you were able to get together as collaborators and were able to create this connection and there really wasn’t a lot of screen time but it was so impactful. Can you two talk about how you were able to make that connection so quickly? Any ideas on how you built that? The way it was hot in the car, your eyes, the connection.

Algee Smith: George took a lot of time preparing us. The rehearsal time featured a lot of unconventional exercises, I guess you can call them. But I think it’s just the attention to detail and they took the time to make the chemistry happen. She’s already an amazing person, I think I’m a pretty cool guy, so it wasn’t really hard for us to connect. But to have that, in so little amount of time, to come across on the screen so fast was a hard thing to do. But I think that the direction and guidance made it work out perfect.

Ava DuVernay: When I grew up, there weren’t a lot of black teenage shows at the time way, way back in the day. So I grew up with ‘Breakfast Club’ and ’16 Candles’ and “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”, the teen movies of that time involved trying to get out of school. The films for our young people in the times we’re in, that are so strenuous and filled with strife and uncertainty, you really have to speak to the time that we’re in. In the midst of teen drama and real current events and the tone of that. The fact that something like the shooting exists in the same movie where the white boy comes to the hood amid all that action. How did you balance the tone of this?

Director George Tillman Jr: When it came to me it was a YA book, but I said I didn’t really see it as a YA book, maybe it is for younger readers. But I saw it as a 16-year-old protagonist who’s going through adult issues. So, I thought it was an adult movie. I always felt like young people were smarter and more ahead.

The Hate U Give Cast Talks Black Storytelling, Code-Switching
Angie Thomas’ debut novel black teenage girl, published in February 2017 and instantly topped The Hate U Give was released when America needed it most. The book, which touches on racism and police brutality as seen through the lens of a present-day The New York Times best-seller list.

Ava DuVernay: The first 15 minutes are easy to watch, there’s music, it’s cool. You watch it and there’s romance, there are all these tones that can be found there. I want you to talk a little bit about your connection to Russell Hornsby. Just being a filmmaker, his portrayal gave me chills. There’s the scene on the lawn, those small scenes where you found your friends wand in the room. That’s not something that’s automatically in the script. That comes from actors who are able to put that there.

Amandla Stenberg on working with Russell Hornsby: He was such an incredible mentor to me. I think oftentimes out relationship reflected Starr and her Dad’s. He would guide me and teach me lessons but never direct me. He would plant Easter eggs for me and then allow me to find them and learn things. He was neither patronizing or knocking me over the head with something that I should do. He’s a guy that taught me a lot about giving a performance, about operating on the set in that environment, how to be professional, how to commit yourself fully. He was constantly giving me amazing lessons in a way that I think a father would. Allowing me to grow and learn independently of him while always holding me by the hand.

The Hate U Give | Official Trailer [HD] | 20th Century FOX
Get tickets now: https://www.thehateugive.com/ Starr Carter is constantly switching between two worlds: the poor, mostly black, neighborhood where she lives and the rich, mostly white, prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer.

Ava DuVernay: Talk a little bit about the two worlds that you’ve created. And what do you reveal of those two worlds to people who are not black? There are a lot of non-black people who will be watching this film who are not aware that code-switching exists. They think that when they leave her school she’s mad ghetto. When I talk to my white friends they’re shocked. Like ‘There’s a word for that? That’s a phrase? That’s a thing?’ What do you think the value is in revealing that, talking about that, and making sure that people are aware of these two faces that marginalized people and people color have to use every day? What’s the value in revealing that and talking about that?

Amandla Stenberg: I think there’s some value in even understanding the amount of the mental and emotional work that goes into code-switching. I think what takes an emotional toll on us as black people I think is that white people and other non-black people being exposed to the fact that our lives are nuanced. We’re very smart people and we understand that the way we present ourselves authentically might not be conducive to our success because we exist among white institutions. I think them being aware of that when approaching us would be helpful. If more white people were able to understand that that’s a line we consistently walk then maybe they’ll have more of a sensitivity toward our experiences or at least be able to conceptualize us as multi-dimensional human beings. We’re more than just one stereotype or one troupe that’s often perpetuated by the media.

“The Hate U Give” opens in theaters nationwide Friday, October 19. Forbes magazine is already calling it Oscar-worthy. “The Hate U Give” also stars Regina Hall, Common and Anthony Mackie.


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