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EssenceFest 2018: Amandla Stenberg & Russell Hornsby Talk ‘The Hate U Give’

EssenceFest 2018: Amandla Stenberg & Russell Hornsby Talk ‘The Hate U Give’Posted by Wilson Morales

July 11, 2018

During the 2018 ESSENCE Festival, 20th Century FOX came down to New Orleans to gear up for the upcoming release of the film, The Hate U Give, in theaters October 19th. Fans filled the Center Stage as Amandla Stenberg, Regina Hall, Russell Hornsby, Director George Tillman, Jr. and Author Angie Thomas gathered onstage for a special footage presentation.

Based on the critically acclaimed New York Times bestseller by Angela Thomas, The Hate U Give is a timely, powerful and thought-provoking story of race and identity, told from the perspective of Starr Carter, played by Amandla Stenberg (The Hunger Games, As You Are). Starr 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. What Starr does-or does not-say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.

Directed by George Tillman Jr. (Soul Food, Men of Honor, Notorious) from a screenplay by Tina Mabry and Audrey Wells, the film also stars Regina Hall and Russell Hornsby as Starr’s parents Lisa and Maverick. Lamar Johnson will play Seven, Starr’s older brother. Detroit’s Algee Smith will play Starr’s childhood friend, Khalil. Common will play Starr’s uncle who is a police officer. Issa Rae plays April, the activist that helps Stenberg’s character find her voice and speak up. Anthony Mackie will portray local drug dealer, King, while K.J. Apa will portray the boyfriend of Amandla Stenberg’s Starr. Singer-songwriter and actress Sabrina Carpenter will play Hailey, one of Starr’s friends from her prep school.

The Hate U Give spent 63 weeks on The New York Times young adult best-seller list after debuting at No.1. The title comes from a tattoo worn by Tupac Shakur (the acronym T.H.U.G.). The film’s producers are Wyck Godfrey, Marty Bowen and Bob Teitel. had the opportunity to speak with Amandla Stenberg and Russell Hornsby regarding their involvement in the film.

What was the attraction to say yes to this project?

Amandla Stenberg: I was blown away initially when I first read the book. It’s such a critical piece I feel like. I think it’s so important to ground these types of events in personal narratives that create empathy in people. It’s a beautiful coming of age story, such a nuanced and amazing character I got to play with such a fresh voice. There’s endless reasons why this is kind of a dream project for me.

Russell Hornsby: Initially, I didn’t know much about the book at all. I read the screenplay and was blown away by the presence for me personally of family, of family that is flawed but it’s family that is loving but more importantly for me was the deep presence of manhood and the presence of a father and the presence of a loving father in a quote unquote nuclear family. That really sort of grabbed me. Then once I read the book, for me the book is brilliant and it’s so authentic and so real that I had not read anything like it ever. Then the opportunity to take this, to put it on the screen, you just jump at the chance. I feel that and knowing Amandla was going to be a part of it and then actually after having met her realizing we have something special, then when you put the cast together to tell this story and to speak for these authentic voices, then you know as each day passed and as each part of the rehearsal and film, you realize wow, this is going to be special. This is also important. That’s a rare opportunity, you get those once in your lifetime if at all.

Russell, you’re playing a former gangbanger now reformed and teaching his kids how to do right in life. How did you get into character playing two types of personalities?

Russell Hornsby: Well, you know I come from theater originally. I’ve been raised by the work of August Wilson. There is a play of his called King Hedley II where King spent seven years in prison after killing a man, a man who cut his face, seven inch scar on the left side of his face. King used to always say, after he got out of prison that I walk around with a mark on me, right. The mark was the scar but the mark was also metaphorically people seeing that you had been in prison and what that mark says to people, what that mark says about you. I felt that Mav walked around with a mark on him.

He’d have to do whatever you can to take that mark off you, remove that mark from you, remove that mark from your spirit, remove that mark from you physically, emotionally, mentally and remove that mark from your family and how do you go about doing that. What Angie wrote, was being a loving father, a loving husband, present in your community, present to your people, trying to make up as best you can for the ills of your past. You’re doing it every day, your penance, penance and you’re looking to repent every day. That’s what I do. Again, you can’t, it’s all about telling the truth. We have to just look for the truth in the script, look for the truth in the story and just tell it, just be honest. She laid the groundwork. She had the roadmap and all you got to do is follow the yellow, brick road.

What is it that you want people to get out of this story when they see it if they haven’t read the book?

Amandla Stenberg: A myriad of things. I hope for especially girls of color that they’re able to relate to the story of a young black girl having to find her voice and her power in the face of adversity and trauma and having to face the decision of sacrificing some of her comfort and her safety in order to speak for those who can’t. I hope that they feel empowered by that and they feel like they’re given a nuanced and honest representation of a black girl, just because this is a special character and unique in that you witness her experience in having to code switch between different environments, which if you are a black person, contemporary America is an inherent part of your experience as you try to navigate basic tools of survival in order to be successful in this country. I hope that they’re able to find solace in that and I hope that the events, because they are so vivid and jarring are able to make those who haven’t empathized with the black community empathize and understand through this personal narrative, just because it’s so easy to become desensitized to these types of events.

Is this the type of project that once the movie is over, you can kind of walk away from or does a part of this movie carry with you?

Amandla Stenberg: I’ll carry this movie with me, of course, yeah.

Russell Hornsby: This movie is in me, it took me a couple of weeks just to kind of decompress after coming off of this film. Actually, we had to go back and do reshoots. It was hard to get back in it for me, I’m sure it was for you even more so because you had to do more. I hadn’t realized how far, how deep we had gone into the characters, into the world when we had to go back and do reshoots because it was so difficult to just jump back into it. You couldn’t do it. You really had to like sort of find something else to sort of get yourself back in it. It shows the just the level of commitment that it takes as actors to do a film of this subject matter and a film that is this deeply rooted.

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