The Hate U Give was one of 2018’s most discussed films. That’s because it struck a nerve for Black America — and for White America, too. The story deals with police brutality, how children deal with trauma and the choices people make at the intersection of fear, flight and what’s right. The movie was indeed a reflection of the mood in a country where unarmed African-American boys have been killed by police without consequence.
For author Angie Thomas, who wrote the No.1 New York Times best-selling novel that the film was based on, this type of story marks the modern-day Civil Rights Movement. Exploring teen activism is part of an important narrative, she says.
“It's extremely important that art exists that reflects our times if for no other reason than to make future generations aware,” says Thomas.
“It is absolutely true that we are destined to repeat history if we are unaware of history, and artists are almost like archivists in that regard. Art also humanizes issues. After a while, we can become numb to tough topics, especially when it’s constantly in our faces. But art has a way of making us care about things beyond ourselves by tapping into our empathy.”
A native of Jackson, Miss., Thomas was the first Black student to graduate in creative writing from Belhaven University in Jackson. She says she is inspired by artists such as Nikki Giovanni and Ruby Dee whose work demonstrated that “activism can be art and art can be activism.”
She also admires civil rights activist and former Black Panther member Angela Davis.
“She laid the blueprint for what it means to be a young Black woman in a country that is quick to deem you the problem simply for speaking up,” says Thomas. “It’s honestly just an honor to have the same first name as her.”
Thomas’ latest book, On the Come Up, debuted in February. It’s about a teen who wants to be a rapper and has a song that goes viral for all the wrong reasons. Thomas has made it her mission to push for more diversity in children’s literature.
“Children of color need to see themselves in books so that they can know they can be the heroes of their own stories,” Thomas says. “It’s almost just as important that White children see children of color in books as well so that they too can know that those kids can be heroes.”
— Adrienne Samuels Gibbs