'The Hate U Give': How Music Producers Created a Song to Amplify the Battle Against Racial Injustice
Mike Woods and Kevin White found the words, and notes, to capture the anguish, determination and hope for characters fighting police brutality for their anthem "We Won't Move," which closed the film adaptation: "This was a message that was easy for us to get behind."
When music producing partners Mike Woods and Kevin White attended an early screening of The Hate U Give, they walked out with an absolute conviction of what they needed to compose for the end of the movie. "What was really touching about the film was how real it was," says Woods. "It was obvious that we needed a song that gave a scene that was so heavy a feeling of empowerment."
The question was, what kind of musical piece would provide a big finish to the adaptation of Angie Thomas' YA novel, expressing anguish, determination and hope for characters fighting racial injustice and police brutality in 21st century America?
Best defined as an anthem, "We Won't Move" captures a sense of unwavering resilience. But articulating how a bona fide musical anthem comes about creatively is like describing the process of trapping a genie in a bottle, according to the writers. "I don't think you know you're going to write an anthem before you write it," says White. "It's something that happens organically with good chemistry."
Capturing the passion of the present-day civil rights movement started with crafting the right lyrics. "The title, 'We Won't Move,' says 'We're going to hold our ground, we're going to remain peaceful but vigilant,' " Woods explains. "Also, 'step by step, brick by brick, we're going to face these challenges that we are going through' — lyrically that conveyed what the emotion was for the song and for the scene. We knew as we finished our session that this was a great song with an important message."
Though White and Woods, who have been working together since 2011, felt confident about their creation, it was never a given that "We Won't Move" would close the film. "About five other producers from the publishing company that we work at saw the film," says White. "It's basically whoever makes the best song that fits the film that gets the role." The competition aspect of songwriting is not something that fazes them anymore. "We're kind of in the 'pros' of music, if you want to use the analogy of the NBA," says White. "You have to just play your game and do your best. At the end of the day, competition breeds better performance, right?"
In the case of "We Won't Move," the selection process went so smoothly that White and Woods were caught a little bit off guard. "When you have a song that is supposed to draw that much emotion and there's a film that's that powerful, people are really searching for a knockout that's going to deliver, and you're just guessing," admits White. "But the initial reaction was, 'Wow, this is exactly what we wanted.' Mike and I would laugh about it. We were waiting for something to go wrong." They credit L.A. singer-songwriter Harloe for selling the song to the studio. "Her demo vocal was so good that they had a hard time using new artists on it," says White. (In the end, U.K. artist Arlissa was brought on to sing the song for the soundtrack.)
In this highly politicized time, White says he and Woods try to stay away from political messaging and matters of religion as much as possible in their art. "But when it comes to social injustices, it's important to get involved," he says. "This was a message that was easy for us to get behind and shed light on. Our idea is that if the song helps somebody get through something, or helps somebody realize something, we as artists have won."
This story first appeared in a December stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.