The Hate U Give: The major book-to-movie differences explained by Angie Thomas and George Tillman Jr.
The Hate U Give: The major book-to-movie differences
The Hate U Give is not an unfaithful adaptation, but no matter how closely a film mirrors its origin book, a few changes must always be made. As Angie Thomas, author of the New York Times best-selling YA novel, tells EW, she thinks of the book and movie as fraternal twins.
"I remind my readers that these are two separate mediums," she explains. "They share the same DNA and that's what truly matters."
Read on to find out how Thomas and the film's director, George Tillman Jr., reworked the story to fit the big screen.
The opening scene
The film begins with a flashback. The Carter family sits around the table as Maverick (Russell Hornsby) explains to a young Starr (Kai Ture) and Seven (Hassan Welch) what no child should have to hear: What to do when they got stopped by the police. In the book, that comes much later.
"When I saw one of the first drafts of the script, and it opened with that scene of the family I was like maybe we should start the book out that way, too," laughs Thomas. "Because I was still editing the book. There’s a deleted version of the book where it starts with that scene; it didn’t work for us but for the film it gave us this very important background scene for the character, and it informs so much of what she does and how she reacts later on. We see Starr at such a young age; 7 is such a young age to be involved in this very adult conversation. And what does that mean when so often young black kids have to get this talk and are forced out of their innocence into a world that so often sees them as a threat?"
The Carter family backstory
In the novel, readers become incredibly familiar with the history of Maverick and Lisa's relationship: The infidelity, the breakup, the jail sentence. The film had to portray those same sentiments without the benefit of a few hundred pages to lay it all out.
"I wanted to show the nuances of their relationship in terms of their love for one another, their sensuality, their sense of leadership, and their differences," says Tillman Jr. "Especially in terms of Lisa [Regina Hall] wanting to move out of the neighborhood and Mav wanted to stay — all those things gave us a complexity that we don’t really see with a mother-and-father relationship of African-American descent. A little bit [of plot] here and there just gave us those nuances: Obviously the three years they spent in prison was talked about, and the relationship with Carlos [Common], but it’s those small things that I saw my mother and father do that help us believe in the love and believe that these two are trying not to make the same mistakes they made in the past."
The YA romance
As readers might point out, there are a few intimate moments that don't quite make it to the big screen.
"With YA books there’s honestly no limit with what you can do, it’s just about how you do it," says Thomas. "I’ve read YA books with a lot of sex scenes in them that address how teenagers are dealing with sexuality, I’ve read very graphic YA books. So often the problem is not the books themselves, but the adults are gatekeepers that don’t want kids to read those books or they think that teenagers aren’t dealing with these things when they are."
Language, language, language
The inspiration for the title itself comes with a cinematic sticking point: Tupac's philosophy of Thug Life, which he said stood for The Hate U Give Little Infants F--- Everybody.
"In terms of the language I was trying to be really true and I really thank the MPAA, they were very helpful in this," explains Tillman Jr. "You get an R rating if you use two effs, so I always had one eff in the whole film and when I got down to finish the film it just didn’t feel right that Starr cannot say f--- in describing the Tupac philosophy. So we went back in and we told the MPAA that it was going to be humorous to an audience if we don’t finish the word the second time around. Khalil says it and then Starr comes back with just 'eff.' So the MPAA wrote us back and granted us a PG-13 with two effs because they believed in the movie and they totally understand."
The residents of Garden Heights
One of the more enjoyable aspects of the book are the anecdotes of all the community members: Lisa checking on the older residents, Fo'ty Ounce entertaining the whole block. Several of these characters (and we mean in that in every sense of the word) are notably absent on the big screen.
"It was more about keeping the mood and the vibe of the neighborhood [instead of individual residents]," notes Tillman Jr. "I was very excited about the neighborhood because where I grew up in the '80s and '90s, the community was such a big part of our neighborhood. We had the store owner, the barber shop, the church, and it was this village that raised us. When I started the script development stage it felt like it was hard to maintain so many of those characters, so we just put it into Mr. Lewis and the barbecue joint, which was very important to us. But the spirit was still there, like at the very end when everyone’s standing around Mav’s store, when King’s glancing over at his store and saying, ‘I see your store’s doing good,’ we see people coming into the store or Mav working in there. I thought all that was important in capturing the vibe of what Angie put in the book."
DeVante and Seven are kind of the same person
Okay, so that's a bit of an exaggeration. But as many people have noticed, there is no DeVante in the movie — a character whose journey was a big part of the novel. Instead, the screenwriters folded a few of his plot points into Seven's (Lamar Johnson) storyline.
"When they first told me they were cutting DeVante my gut instinct was, 'No, you can’t!'" laughs Thomas. "But then when George explained that it would take away from Starr, I understood. So for me it really was about just letting go and being okay with things because as long as the heart of the story was there and the plot was still there that’s what matters. Honestly, I’ve seen the movie several times now and I don’t miss DeVante or Nana, you know? And for a second I was like, dang, does this mean I shouldn’t have put them in the book?"
Sekani and the gun
There are several dramatic standoffs with the police in Garden Heights, but the film's climax comes during a moment with young Sekani (TJ Wright) — a scene that wasn't in the novel.
"I think the scene with Sekani, instead of a dramatization it was more, explaining the philosophy of Tupac with a visual effect," says Tillman Jr. "Outside of the community, a lot of people might not know Tupac’s music so it was more, how do you explain it? That’s the part of the adaptation where I think the filmmaker and writer can be able to bring more to the table and bring an extra layer. I noticed in the book that Sekani is there, he’s taking in everything, and then King is there and everything kind of comes together. I tried to stay away from overdramatizing — it becomes almost cliché — I tried to make it more honest."
The move from Garden Heights
In both mediums, the story ends on a hopeful note, but in the book that note involves the family moving out of Garden Heights into a bigger, nicer house.
"When we started testing the movie, a lot of people [asked], 'Was there a reason why they moved? Or is there a reason why they couldn’t stay?'" says Tillman Jr. "There were those questions. Sometimes when you’re making a movie, the movie tells you what to do and the movie was telling me that the family should stay at that time. And I talked to Angie about it and she was okay with that. I think sometimes in the community that can be a good decision — I remember we moved out of the neighborhood and it helped me so much, but I know a lot of my family and my cousins stayed in the neighborhood and it helped them so much."