The Hate U Give is the film adaptation of Angie Thomas’ 2017 New York Times best-seller.
The story follows Starr Carter (Amandla Stenberg), a high school student trying to balance living in two worlds. There’s Garden Heights Starr that lives with her parents and two brothers in a predominately black neighborhood. At school there’s Williamson Starr that doesn’t use slang, goes out of her way to be non confrontational, and makes sure her classmates don’t’ see her as “ghetto”.
After witnessing the police kill her childhood friend Khalil (Algee Smith), Starr starts feeling pressure from her community, mostly from local drug dealer King (Anthony Mackie), and she’s feeling more and more out of place at her high school. All of this comes to a head as the grand jury for the police shooting approaches and Starr must decide if she’s going testify.
As much of a hot topic as police violence is today, The Hate U Give does a great job framing the trauma many people experience through the eyes of a young black girl. There are so many frustrations, emotions, and conversations that occur after an unarmed black person is killed – most days, those feelings are hard to put into words. Director George Tillman Jr. not only gives audiences the words, he shows what that trauma looks like throughout Starr’s journey.
The best example is when Starr returns to school after the shooting. Her life in Garden Heights is surrounded by people fed up and frustrated with police shootings. When she walks onto campus, she’s surrounded by people who aren’t thinking about Khalil or how his death impacted her community. When the students at Williamson do get involved, they’re walking out of school under the guise of a protest. It’s not long before Starr understands her classmates are more interested in skipping school than righting any injustice.
Starr carries a righteous rage with her through this film that most black Americans can relate to.
That speaks to something else the film gets right, Starr’s ability to code switch between home and school and the loneliness that comes with it. When Starr’s at school, she’s not just sad about the death of her friend, she has nobody to talk to about this thing that’s eating her up inside. She has no way to voice her frustrations and nobody to voice them to.
Amandla Stenberg is electric. She jumps off the screen in every scene she’s in. Her ability to convey all of Starr’s emotions without saying a single word is what makes her such a great young actress. Stenberg shines brightest during one of the pivotal moments when Starr stumbles upon a march happening in her city and has to make a decision.
Alongside Stenberg is a cast of talented actors that include Regina Hall and Fence’s Russell Hornsby (as Starr’s parents), Issa Rae, Lamar Johnson, and Algee Smith. Hall is fantastic playing mother whose #1 job is protecting her daughter and Hornsby is fantastic as the ex gang member turned legit businessman that is constantly instilling values into his children.
The film is at its best when it’s not the scenes that feel scripted but the scenes that are ripped right out of the front page news or somebody’s journal. It captures the long lasting effects of police brutality, how these conversations bend and break friendships, and how to find your voice during these times – whatever that looks like.
There’s a fine line between talking about racism in America and talking to people about racism in America. The Hate U Give succeeds by not only talking to people about racism in America; it does so in a way that’s easy for people to understand without dumbing it down. It’s the same thing that made Mr. Rogers so successful – the story talks to people, not at them.
The Hate U Give is a timely story that makes a serious topic digestible for all ages. Angie Thomas’ story was born after the murder of Oscar Grant in 2009 and is still relevant nine years later. The film is equally as engaging as it is emotional. It’s everything 2017’s Detroit wanted to be. It has understanding, empathy and perspective necessary for telling this story.