Friday, April 7, 2017

Resolutions

Now Playing: Highly Suspect - My Name is Human

Last week, I:

1) Read The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas.

2) Watched Get Out, written and directed by Jordan Peele.

I've been thinking about these two stories in the context of how our world influences fiction, and of the narrative choices we make as creators--not necessarily in a "good choice" vs "bad choice" kind of way, but in how those choices differ because of framing, tone, what we feel is best for our stories, and how we react to real life events.

Both The Hate U Give and Get Out deal critically with the subject of racism, but they approach it in different ways. The former is mostly focused on police brutality (although it also touches on the complexities that arise from conflicts within poorer black communities and the kind of struggles a kid, Starr, who straddles two worlds is forced to face). It's mostly about the kind of racism that arises from hatred--a white community looking down to a black community. Always assuming the worst. Get Out is almost about the opposite, instead dealing with prejudices born from a misplaced, ignorant racism that has a white community "admiring" black people for completely asinine reasons. Both have their own ignorant justifications, and while the attitudes are different, the outcome is the same in the way that the black heroes/characters are mistreated, at times villainized, often scrutinized, etc.

They differ in tone too. There are amusing, funny scenes in both, but The Hate U Give is clearly trying to set a more serious tone than Get Out, which is never ridiculous, but it does have a closer relationship with the hyperbolic given its genre. It has an almost equal amount of tension and comedy and horror. Tonally--and again, just because of the differing genres--it sets them apart.

I wouldn't necessarily be comparing the two if it hadn't been for their endings.

(SPOILERS HERE AFTER).

It's not necessarily the focus, but Get Out does acknowledge the presence of racism within law enforcement officers, and in the ending, it very clearly played with our expectations. I believed--the second that Chris made that call to 911 as he was escaping the house--that he would be arrested for the "murder" of the white family. And I know I wasn't the only one--I felt an overwhelming sense of relief go through the theater audience when we saw it was his friend, Rod, who'd arrived not in a police vehicle but a TSA car. It didn't, however, surprise me to find out that Jordan Peele had originally written out the ending we feared: Chris getting arrested and most likely falsely tried and convicted for the deaths of the family.

But I find it most interesting that Jordan Peele decided to end the film with hope. Not because he was trying to squander or minimize his original message--I don't think the new ending takes away from that. But because he does feel hope and he wants us--and his hero--to feel that hope too. As the article states, "Peele explained that when they finally got around to making the movie, times had changed a bit, and the perspective of society regarding racism was a little “more woke,” thanks to headline-making stories about police shootings."

Maybe because I'm wildly idealistic, I wanted to have a bit of that hope too as The Hate U Give was ending, even though I knew--because I wasn't surprised--that the outcome in the book would be the same as it often has been in real life: the white police officer who murdered an unarmed black civilian is not indicted.

In an interview she gave to Ebony, she talks about how the real deaths of Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland pushed her into writing and finishing a novel with a such a difficult, taxing subject matter. And I couldn't help but wonder, if in an earlier draft, or even just as a fleeting thought, she ever considered giving Starr a far happier ending.

I don't think she would have. The tone and overall structure of the story riles on realism, so diverting from that had a higher chance of hurting the book than of helping it. But I still wonder if she ever considered it, if only because it could only be in fiction that some sense of justice would be claimed.

The Hate U Give doesn't end completely bleakly, but it's clearly not the outcome that Starr would have wanted. Of course because I'd grown to care for her, I wanted the best for her, after everything she'd been through. But I'm not mad about the ending or feel like it should have been done differently, despite how brutally realistic it is. And I don't think the ending to Get Out needed to be different either. Just like The Hate U Give doesn't have a completely bleak ending, Get Out doesn't end in roses and rainbows either. It's a balance, even if they did pick slightly different directions.

Both stories found the ending they needed and the endings the rest of the narrative built up to. As someone who struggles with figuring out endings, I have to admire The Hate U Give and Get Out. It speaks volumes to the talent of Thomas and Peele that they were able to give completely powerful resolutions to very complex stories with heavy (and personal) subjects. And that, despite some similarities in themes, the stories develop and resolve in completely different ways.

Side note: I'm glad they've both gotten critical acclaim and been a huge hit with audiences. It brings me back to that perpetually-challenged hope I have that art can change culture.

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