VOX ATL had the opportunity to have a round-table discussion with actors T.J. Wright, Algee Smith, and Lamar Johnson from the critically acclaimed film “The Hate U Give.” In a wide-ranging conversation at the Ritz-Carlton in downtown Atlanta, VOX ATL reporters Erin Davis, Lyric Eschoe and Rachel Springer talked with the actors about the film and the power it has, among other things. Check out what they had to say.
VOX ATL: How do you want the black youth of America to feel after they walk out of the theaters?
Algee Smith: We just want people to realize that this is not just a story about Starr or a story based on a book. This is a real life story and it’s a story about identity. Finding yourself and finding your true voice because a lot of people just don’t know who they are right now and so when you understand who you are and you can understand what you’re fighting for it. We’re just promoting identity, a self-awareness and not being, not being afraid to speak up, for what you want.
TJ Wright: I want young black people to take away an open mind and an open heart from the film because that they should show their blackness and they should have pride in who they are. I hope people, especially the black community, take away love and that they should speak up too because even if they don’t know that that person, they should still give love to that person because they’re from the same community.
Lamar Johnson: Love is an undertone of the entire movie. It could be the remedy to a lot of the craziness and it mad stuff that’s happening in this world.
VOX ATL: What kinds of opposition do you collectively think the voices of black youth are facing right now?
Algee: There’s a lot. Obvious things that are on the surface, the racial injustice and social injustice. but we face so many underlying things that it’s kind of hard to start like picking because so much has been on us for so long. And even in this movie, we see the resemblance. Like it just goes to show how strong we are because even through the testing of the worst times, we still find some way to get through it, whether it’s through dancing or whether it’s through music or being around each other and creating community. But we’re facing a lot, even within our industry. There’s certain jobs that we may not get sent in for it because of the color of my skin or certain opportunities that we may not get. We have to push through and overcome.
Lamar: We just keep going. It’s really just like embracing ourselves and who we are and our history. We’re kings and queens, just embracing that really just stepping into our path and creating these jobs for ourselves if they don’t want to give them to us. It’s really just about taking control. Be like, “OK cool, well you don’t want to give me this job, you know what, I’m gonna direct.”
VOX ATL: Another message in the film is how youth are able to enact change and if they band together. So how do you feel that the youth are changing the world?
Lamar: Kids are using their voice more, and social media is really helping the kids and the youth really actually use your voice because now it’s getting spread across the world and people are seeing it. That’s a really big thing. We’re seeing more activists and more and more kids are super passionate about it. It’s really cool that social media is a platform for the youth, for, for them to use their voice.
VOX ATL: Algee, what was it like portraying a character that became yet another victim of police brutality?
Algee: It felt a little surreal because I felt like I could be Khalil at any moment. I’m a young black man living in America. Khalil is 17 and I’m 23 so it’s not that far in age difference. That could happen to me at any given time. For me, it was just realizing the importance of being a vessel and letting go. You are Khalil. Let him speak through you, Let him have those emotions that you would actually have. Even when I was quoting that line from Tupac, I had to really dig deep and look at where I live and look at how growing up and look at myself and the things I don’t like about myself that, you know, society has given me. And that’s what that line came from. He was like, “Yo, I feel this. I feel this right now because I feel like that’s what society is doing to me.” So that’s how it just came out so effortlessly. And then, with [“The Hate U Give” actress] Amandla [Stenberg, who plays Starr] she was just there to help. Her emotion helped me become more of the vessel I needed to be.
VOX ATL: What drew you to want to be a part of the movie?
Lamar: I didn’t hear about the book, so I got the script and I was like, Yo, this is so good. Also, there was one scene when Seven has that conversation with Lesha that was in my audition. It was heavy stuff and I was like, oh, this is so good. It just connected with me, personally because I also had a distant father. So I kind of used those personal experiences and put that into my audition. Then I ended up getting the job and I picked up the book ASAP because I had to read the full story. I’m just so proud to be a part of something like this.
TJ: I got the audition and when I read the script, it was really powerful. But it also really connected to my personality because I am definitely like Sekani. His name means joy and I’m definitely a joyful person.
Algee: Since I was a little kid, I’ve been a big Tupac fan So once I saw the connection with, T.H.U.G. life, and then “The Hate U Give,” I instantly was interested. I’ve died in a couple of films before, so I was like, “Yo, I’m not trying to die again.” Then when I was reading what it was for, it made sense. So I decided I would put myself in that position to bring peace to whoever’s watching this or whoever’s family has actually had this go on. That was a big driving force for me. And then also, just a message of importance. It’s good to have art that actually speaks to the soul.
VOX ATL: By being a part of this film, how are you also a part of something bigger, like a movement or being a part of change?
TJ: Because this is a story about black people in black communities, I feel like this will heal people and make people open-minded about black police brutality that impacts the black community. It’s a great thing to watch because you become more open-minded, more open-hearted. So it’s truly a blessing to be part of it.
Algee: Fortunately, we’re put on a platform where the world gets to see it. Where not a lot of people that fight for this every day. The world doesn’t get to see them. For us, it’s just a blessing to be doing art and entertainment but also have something important to say. We’re combating things that have been systemic in America for a long time. Like racial injustice, police brutality, social injustice. We’re combating all of these. We’re preaching love and so we’re going head to head up against pretty much this beast. And so it feels good. I mean, I love it.
Lamar: Just being of service to a story like this, to play these characters in such a timely and topical film like this, it’s just so very important and it’s really important for people to see which is why I’m so happy that it’s being given a platform like 20th Century Fox putting it on a platform worldwide for everybody to see. It’s very raw and it just feels very truthful. That’s what’s so awesome about this film and that’s what we connected to.