Broken Cycles: The 5 Lessons I Learned from “The Hate U Give”

Inhale. Exhale.

I forced myself to do it.

Just breathe, Rachel. It’s going to be okay.

I sat, immobilized in my seat, unbelieving of what I just saw. I just encountered art as art should be: creative expression that changes hearts, challenges minds and social realities, is timely and thought-provoking… and, ultimately, really, really well-made.

As the credits began to roll and I walked out of that theatre (leaving a puddle of emotions behind in my seat), I felt a profound gratitude for the opportunity to witness this world of Starr Carter imagined in the movie The Hate U Give.

Recently, I wrote about the movie’s book counterpart, (click on the link for a synopsis) and I’m so happy to say that the recently released movie is hands-down one of the best book-to-film adaptations I’ve ever seen. The movie did absolute justice to such a beloved book by Angie Thomas. It presented the same hard topics and difficult questions that ruffled feathers in the book, and it presented a beautifully scripted conclusion – that if actually enacted upon – might actually change communities for the better.

This movie was also incredibly well-acted and deeply moving. But, beyond all of these accolades, it presented some really important lessons that I am still reflecting upon:

1. No matter what is going wrong, never stop doing right.
First of all, let’s talk about Starr’s dad. There are so many sweet moments in the movie that he really shines. Not only does he fight for change in his community, but he fights for change in his own family. As a former gang leader and drug dealer, Maverick Carter’s character shines in the way that he passionately and authentically teaches his kids the value in pursuing the good.

In a pivotal moment in Starr’s journey through this story of her life, she hears this line: “Sometimes you can do everything right and things will still go wrong. The key is to never stop doing right” (154).

Did you hear that? No matter what is going wrong, never stop doing right. No matter what life throws your way – even if it makes your actions harder — your choice to do good is not dictated by your circumstances. This is the call of a Christian. This is what leads the saints to give their entire lives over for Christ. For them, it wasn’t just the knowledge that the fight for the good mattered, but primarily it was the peace and joy that they received in knowing their identity as children of God, commissioned to participate in the good that will overcome evil.

2. There is healing power in letting others see you.
One of the predominant themes of the book is the dichotomy between “white privilege” and the “black ghetto.” As Starr wavers between those two worlds, she alternates between what is socially acceptable in each. Throughout the story, we see her journeying from hiding her home life at school with her friends and white boyfriend to really truly opening up and accepting the freedom that comes in removing those masks.

In the book, she concludes: “I was ashamed of Garden Heights and everything in it. It seems stupid now though. I can’t change where I come from or what I’ve been through, so why should I be ashamed of what makes me, me? That’s like being ashamed of myself” (441).

I can’t exactly relate to what it must feel like to waver between two vastly different communities, but I do know what it feels like to think that putting on the persona of someone I am not is the “safe option”– preferable to real vulnerability. Yet, Starr shows us that true joy comes in stripping away those masks and allowing others in exactly as we are. She also teaches us that this is a good way to determine who your real friends are.

3. Your voice is important — use it.
It’s really easy to feel small in this big world. Like Starr, I’ve known the feeling of thinking my voice doesn’t matter because who really is going to listen to me? In the book, Starr is reminded “That [silence is] the problem. We let people say stuff, and they say it so much that it becomes okay to them and normal for us. What’s the point of having a voice if you’re gonna be silent in those moments you shouldn’t be?” (252).

While Starr is presented a big moment to share her voice in a really important matter, we won’t all experience those same big moments, but we will be given a thousand little ones to speak up for the most vulnerable and to stand for truth and goodness.

I remember one of these small moments after my Junior prom: My friends wanted to watch a really raunchy movie and I was torn. I didn’t want to watch that movie, but I didn’t want to be “that girl.” For some reason that night, I decided to make the moral decision and spoke up, saying I wasn’t comfortable watching the movie and if we could choose a different one. Consequently, I was the lone dissenter and spent the night alone on my friend’s couch upstairs. It was a lonely yet peace-filled decision, yet five years later, to my surprise, one of my friends told me that my example that night made a really big impact on her.

Sometimes those moments don’t seem like they make much of a wave, but they only have the chance of any kind of ripple if you actually stand up for them.

4. Light is more powerful than darkness.
Through the difficulty of the situations they face, Starr’s dad makes it a point to remind her that he named her Starr for a reason. Her name carries great meaning in that she is destined to shine light in the darkness.

This is Christ; He is our light. And, we too are called to bring His light to the world. Never forget that, no matter how small the candle, light will always transform the darkness.

5. The cycle can be broken.
If you ever look deeply into a social issue – such as poverty, violence, racism, etc. — there is usually a cycle that exists. In Starr’s community, it was a cycle of poverty that lead individuals to deal drugs. The community doesn’t receive the funding it needs, good jobs aren’t created and schools struggle, so individuals deal drugs to make ends meet, and that mentality of acceptance filters back into the community creating a belief that it is the only way for you to make a living. But, the further down the road of drug dealing you go, the more stuck and indebted you become to those gangs that deal drugs.

Not only does Starr’s dad show that it is possible to be a reformed drug dealer, but in possibly the most moving moment of the movie, Starr demonstrates that cycles of violence and misunderstanding can and must be broken.

It’s really easy to watch this movie and say, “Nah that is too idealistic. The issues are just too big. People will always be this way.” But, that’s exactly like the hold of sin. Sin says, “We’re in it too deep. We won’t get out of this, so just live with it. ” But, Christ has called us and empowers us to live for more.

The cycles of oppression that still very much exist in our world are the result of sin. And, as we seek justice in our world, we have to seek justice in our own hearts first by addressing the sin we struggle with. Call on Christ today and ask Him, “what cycle are you calling me to break?

Is it a particular sin you’re holding on to that you are being mastered by? Ask Christ to give you the courage to approach the Sacrament of Confession.

Is it an attitude or issue that you carry about a certain friend or relationship that remains unresolved because of pride or stubbornness? Ask Christ for the humility to accept how you may be wrong or the grace to let go of that relationship, if needed.

Is it a sadness or struggle you carry about your own self-worth or self-image? Ask Christ to speak truth to you and show you exactly how He sees you, today.

Change can happen, cycles can be broken if we are courageous enough to believe that God is wiser, bigger, and stronger than our problems.

Know I am praying for you and really, really think you should go see The Hate U Give sometime soon. You won’t regret it!