In a scene that feels literally stripped from the headlines, a small town comes together in the dark of the night to protest the death of an unarmed black teenager, at the hands of a white police officer who’s just been acquitted of the act. It’s viscerally filmed, calling to mind the many times such resistance has played out across cable news and on the ground in local communities, as real-world examples of these killings began going viral with the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, and others.
Thomas appears early in the scene as an activist, with the film’s protagonist, Starr Carter (Amandla Stenberg), just arriving at the protest. “It was an amazing experience,” Thomas tells EW of being on-set for the scene. “It was a cold, rainy night in Atlanta, and everybody knew this was too important to not give our all.”
Thomas shouts out the extras, particularly, for creating such an authentic atmosphere. “They created such an amazing energy that it gave me so much hope,” she explains. “Just standing there and knowing this many people could come together to help bring to life a story I created — and were dedicated to getting this right.”
The sequence is also crucial because it marks a key turning point in Starr’s journey. She arrives on the scene bewildered and uncertain, but by the end, is helping lead the moment. It’s where she finds her voice, assertively and triumphantly.
Thomas still gets emotional discussing its importance to Starr, to the film, and most significantly, to viewers watching. “[Filming] that night, we made a statement to the world that said, ‘We are here, and we’re going to keep speaking up and speaking out,'” she says. “That’s powerful to me.”
The Hate U Give is now playing in theaters everywhere.