Regina Hall didn’t expect to be a part of the film adaptation of Angie Thomas’ explosive novel, The Hate U Give. She was cast as Lisa Carter, the loving but no-nonsense mother of protagonist Starr Carter, quite by chance. The novel and film chronicle Starr's experiences with law enforcement, her school and her community, after she watches her childhood friend get gunned down by a police officer. During the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), Shadow and Act sat down to chat with the Hall about bringing a black teen girl’s experience of police brutality and injustice to the big screen.
"I did Barbershop—the third installment. And after we wrapped, George [Tilllman Jr.] said, 'You know, there's a project that I really think you'd be great for,'" Hall revealed. "I didn't know that it had a green light, nor was I sure that the studio was going to approve me for the part. A year passed and George called, and they sent the book over. I was more than halfway through the book, and then the script came. I read the script, and thought that they did a great job with the adaptation—because that's hard. Then I went and met with the executives at Fox, and everyone said, 'Yes.'"
Though the veteran actress trusted Tillman’s vision, watching the film come together as the rest of the cast came onboard was a thrilling experience.
"I was excited! Russell [Hornsby] was doing it, and Amandla [Stenberg]. I thought of the cast that George was putting together, and I was like, 'Huh? That's an interesting cast.' I thought, 'Are people going to think Starr looks like me?' Hall told Shadow and Act.
"Then they brought on Common, and Issa [Rae] as the activist lawyer. Even Anthony [Mackie] as the villain — there were all these pieces of the puzzle. George was so clear, and he was so smart in his vision of the movie. When we were shooting, I was like, 'Oh, of course!' I couldn't see anyone else [in those roles]. It's not necessarily what I would've thought, and I know that there were people who were like, 'I don't know about that,'" Hall said. "So that's just a testament to George and everyone at Fox in the casting. I was very excited to be a part of it, in the rehearsals watching it come together."
[caption id="attachment_307075" align="alignnone" width="1200"] Left to right: Russell Hornsby, Regina Hall, Amandla Stenberg, and Common in 20th Century Fox’s The Hate U Give. Photo Credit: Erika Doss.[/caption]
One of the most vital components of the film is Hall and Hornsby’s chemistry as Lisa and Maverick "Mav" Carter. Starr’s parents are more than just authoritative figures in her life; they're also individuals with their own loving relationship and ambitions. Lisa, in particular, is neither subservient nor a helpmate to her husband.
"[Russell] and I went through the script; we just discussed their relationship — their history — which was also in the book. Lisa and Mav have been together since they were teens. They know their roles, and one role isn't lesser," the Girls Trip actress said.
"There wasn't a chance of Lisa and Mav breaking up," she explained. "They argue, but they will never usurp each other. They will never be disrespectful."
Sadly, images of warm, two-parent, black households with a balanced power dynamic such as theirs remain few and far between in most mainstream films. "It was really important for us, because usually when a father [character] is present, then he's the strong one, and the woman is the nurturing one. When the father's upset, [the mother] goes to the kids softly—like, ‘It's going to be OK,'" Hall said. "I remember in one of the scenes just before the funeral, when Starr goes, 'Mom, I don't feel good, I don't want to go.' Lisa tells her, 'No one feels good today. Go get dressed.' That's what you get. It wasn't indulgent."
Starr is able to begin speaking up for herself because she is emboldened by her parents to do so. In one scene, after the police viciously attack Mav, Mav lines up all of his children on the grass and demands that they recount the Black Panther Party’s Ten-Point Program verbatim. For Hall, Lisa’s role in that moment was to allow her husband the space to give that lesson.
"We decided even doing that speech that Lisa would allow that," Hall explained. "She wouldn't be like, 'Don't talk to them so harshly!' It was weird because even for the positioning, George, Russell and I talked about it. I was like, 'I'd stand aside and allow it. I just saw my husband get thrown down, and I have three black kids: I’ve got a daughter that has seen her friend die, and I have two black sons that just saw their father emasculated. They need to feel empowered. As painful as the situation was, it was a situation for Maverick to handle."
"What I also love is some of the most tender moments that Starr had with her dad," Hall said. "That is a testament to Angie's writing. I think we needed to show that Starr was close to both of them, and Lisa didn't have to be submissive. I think that for black women, it's important to know that we don't have to lose our strength to be in a relationship, to be respectful of our partner, and vice versa. I think there's a myth that we aren't, and that's not true."
The Hate U Give is just one project on the extensive list of things that The Best Man actress has on her plate. She just wrapped up filming for the Marsai Martin-produced comedy Little, where she stars opposite Martin and Issa Rae. Additionally, she stars opposite Don Cheadle in the upcoming Showtime comedy, Black Monday, which premieres in 2019. Over the past two decades, the D.C. native has had her hand in nearly every film genre, so one has to wonder what she's looking forward to in the future.
"There are some great stories I want to tell that I've been looking into and meeting about," she said coyly. "It's early to talk about, but I love telling our stories — and not just our stories, but how our stories affect America and the world. Our stories are not small; our stories are a part of the fabric of this world and this country. I've really been excited about it, and I feel like as I get older, I’ve been able to play more parts. I want to get into producing. It was really fun for me to watch Marsai and watch Issa be like, 'OK — do this, do this.' Issa and I want to do something. We're trying to figure out our next thing together. It's a fun time for black women in the industry, and I love comedy, and I love drama. What's amazing is that we are so rich, and I think it's incredibly important that those images of black women become ingrained. We have such beautiful young women. I'm in awe of the young generation. There's a group of women with such integrity and purpose, and I'm like, 'Ooh, I'm excited about where it's going to go!'"
The Hate U Give premiered Friday, September 7, 2018, at the Toronto International Film Festival. It will debut in theaters October 19, 2018.
Aramide A. Tinubu is a film critic and entertainment writer. As a journalist, her work has been published in EBONY, JET, ESSENCE, Bustle, The Daily Mail, IndieWire and Blavity. She wrote her master’s thesis on Black Girlhood and Parental Loss in Contemporary Black American Cinema. She’s a cinephile, bookworm, blogger and NYU + Columbia University alum. You can find her reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, read her blog at www.chocolategirlinthecity.com or tweet her @midnightrami.