‘The Hate U Give’ director George Tillman Jr. recalls firing white actor caught on tape using the n-word

TORONTO, ON – SEPTEMBER 07: Director George Tillman Jr. of “The Hate U Give” attends The IMDb Studio presented By Land Rover At The 2018 Toronto International Film Festival at Bisha Hotel & Residences on September 7, 2018 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Rich Polk/Getty Images for IMDb)

From making his directorial debut with Soul Food to tackling a movie that leaves much food for thought, George Tillman Jr. is taking on a new challenge with his adaptation of Angie Thomas’ YA best-seller The Hate U Give.

The novel which is based partly on the teenage experiences of Thomas, and was loosely based on the killing of Oscar Grant, is told from a Black teen girl’s perspective and how she navigates through the many layers of America’s modern society. Tillman told The Hollywood Reporter how the film resonated with him because of its rawness and realness.

“The first page, [the main character] Starr is at a party. I said, ‘This reminds me of a party I went to in the ’80s in high school.’ It was a house party. Inner-city neighborhood in Milwaukee. It was dark, and everybody was having a good time. And then pow, pow! This shooting happened and everybody started running,” eh said.

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“As I kept reading it, it got into police brutality. It got into a cultural thing that was very specific. It identified who you are as a black individual living in two different worlds. I immediately had to talk to Angie Thomas before this book got published. I really pushed to be the director of this film,” he admits.

The movie opened today to rave reviews. That’s a welcome reprieve from some earlier issues and backlash that followed after the movie had to be recast because the film’s lead actor Kian Lawley was at the center of controversy after a racist video emerged with Lawley using the n-word.

In a clip that surfaced online, Lawley is seen using the N-word in a profanity-laced racist tirade. “We’re all black drinking purple Kool-aid and eating Kentucky fried motherf**king chicken,” he says.

Once Tillman heard the video, he was left speechless.

“I hear it. I was just … I couldn’t believe this was the same guy. And the thing that really got me going was, he’s using “n—” and using “fried chicken.” And I was like, “Wow. ‘Fried chicken’ is a reference that’s sort of in the movie and in Angie Thomas’ book.”

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Tillman said it was a no-brainer to fire Lawley from the project for his racist comments.

“I went to the studio and talked to some of the executives. And immediately they were shocked. They didn’t know anything about it. Amandla was in Japan on a much-needed vacation. As soon as she got back, her people talked to her about it. I asked her, “How do you feel about this?” And she was very disappointed,” he explained.

“I said, “I’m disappointed too.” This stuff is really serious and completely the opposite of what his character represented. And it just hurt as an African‑American man spending five, six months with this guy. Like, who are you? When he called apologizing, saying he was young, I asked him, “Is this what you really feel about us as African‑Americans?” He says, “No. I was very young. I apologize to you and Angie.” But I felt as a director and as a human being, I couldn’t stand for it. So, me and Amandla and the studio came together. [We] felt like it was the right thing. … It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, especially because the movie [was] working.”

The movie stars Amandla Stenberg, Issa RaeAlgee SmithRegina Hall, Anthony Mackie and Common.