THE HATE U GIVE – Review
THE HATE U GIVE tackles serious issues about race with heart and honesty through the experiences of a black teen girl from a poor neighborhood trying to fit in at a mostly-white private high school, a balancing act upended when she witnesses the killing of a black friend by a white cop.
This is a powerful, engaging drama that everyone should see, for its effective balanced handling of some of society’s most difficult topics in our present society, as well as it’s moving story and wonderful performances, particularly by young Amandla Stenberg. It is particularly essential viewing for white audiences, for the insights and perspectives it offers.
Based on Angie Thomas’ young-adult novel, THE HATE U GIVE rises far above other movies based on young-adult novels. There are no star-crossed lovers with one suffering a fatal disease, no dystopian world saved by teens, and the problems young Starr Carter (Amandla Stenberg) grapples with are far bigger than the usual high school ones of popularity and budding romance.
The film is different from the typical young adult movie from the start, opening with Starr’s father giving his three children “the talk” about how to behave when stopped by the police. The initials of the film’s title spell “THUG,” and are drawn from lyrics by Tupac Shakur describing in raw terms how hate harms children.
Starr lives life in two worlds, constantly “”code-switching” between them: one the poor, mostly black neighborhood where her family lives and the other the mostly white, affluent to rich private high school to which her devoted parents send her.
At school, she is “Starr 2,” an easy-going popular teen who smiles a lot and does her best to fit in through “code-switching.” While her white friends use terms they know from hip-hop, Starr never does because, as she tells us, white kids using black slang makes the feel cool while if she used the same words, it would make her seem “ghetto.” She ignores small slights and racist micro-aggressions to fit in at school, smiling and shrugging them off. She has a white boyfriend (KJ Apa) but refuses to let him know where she lives.
At home, she reverts to just Starr, fitting in with the other black people in the neighborhood, a place where her business-owner father is a respected figure. She is surrounded by family and friends but also poverty and crime, where one of the few ways to make money is working for the local drug lord King (Anthony Mackie). In her neighborhood, Starr code-switches to cover up her school persona, while not feeling entire comfortable in either world.
That balancing act is upended when Starr witnesses the killing of her childhood friend Khalil (Algee Smith), an unarmed black teen, at the hands of a white policeman during a traffic stop. Starr faces pressure from all sides as she grapples with doing the right thing.
The story, which reflects recent real-world events including Ferguson, allows the film to explore a number of sociopolitical topics in an organic way through characters and their interactions. Early on, the film has a certain lightness and humor, particularly around the warmth of the family, before the tale is turned darker by tragedy. Director George Tillman Jr. handles both brilliantly, working from Audrey Well’s script. and is greatly aided by the fine cast. Because this is a young-adult story, the focus is on its strong moral message about family, community and doing the right thing, rather than just the violent moments, which are kept more at arm’s length.
Amandla Stenberg glows as Starr, her innocent wounded gaze and sensitive nature making her tug at our hearts. As her parents Lisa and Maverick, Regina Hall and Russell Hornsby are also wonderful, fierce in their protectiveness and commitment to their children. They paint a compelling portrait of ideal parenting while still allowing room for human foibles and even humor. Common, who plays Lisa’s policeman brother, offers the unique viewpoint of a black cop, as well as the perspective of a black man who made the choice to move out of the neighborhood into suburbia.
THE HATE U GIVE is a unique film, both moving and thought-provoking while thoroughly engrossing, and one that everyone should see, teen and adult, black and white. It may well be a star-making turn for Amandla Stenberg, an inspiring tale of courage and family that may be both an awards contender and a popular hit – which is quite a combination.
RATING: 4 1/2 out of 5 stars