The Hate U Give is being marketed as a “crowd pleaser” and while that is true, it is a bit surprising. This is a film about police brutality and a young woman’s struggle to find herself and her place in this conversation. The film doesn’t shy away from difficult imagery or topics, but somehow remains true to its marketing. The Hate U Give is a crowd pleaser. It is a satisfying watch and one that is simultaneously tense and enjoyable. Your emotions are constantly being brought to the forefront by feeling everything from pride to fear and joy to sadness. By the end it all makes for an incredible experience that can only be matched by a few films this year, therein lays its brilliance. The Hate U Give is the perfect balance of substance and entertainment. It packs a powerful and necessary message into a beautiful film that touches all the emotions.
Like a lot of young minorities, Starr Carter is living two separate lives. There is the Starr that has learned to adapted and thrive in her low income, predominantly black, drug infested neighborhood that she lives in and the Starr that has learned to adapt and thrive in the upper class, predominantly white prep school that she goes to. She has worked meticulously to keep the two lives separate from each other. Unfortunately, those lives come crashing together in the most horrific of ways, when her friend Khalil (Algee Smith) is unjustly shot by a police officer in front of her. This forces Starr to face some of the harsh realities of this world and herself, while also thrusting her into the middle of a polarizing debate about police brutality and blackness in America.
The largest factor in making The Hate U Give so incredibly watchable is the way in which the narrative is delivered. Audrey Wells adapted the screenplay from Angie Thomas’s novel with an intricate attention to detail that immerses you into this world. We are introduced to the world through Starr’s eyes. We see her family, her neighborhood, and her school with small anecdotes that help us to understand it the way she does. It doesn’t take long to get comfortable with the setting and the characters. They become people that we know and places that are familiar. This is a crucial element to the films brilliance because this comfort allows for a larger impact later on in the film. Starr’s narration through this world building is light and smooth in the way an old friend is describing their new home. There is a connection built to this world and the people in it that is subtle but strong. It’s the perfect opening of the film and the perfect foundation for this story.
Starr Carter is a great choice for the perspective of this story. As a character she offers great insight to both views of the race issue. She has a foot in both worlds, which is fertile ground for the storytelling that is used perfectly throughout the film. Starr is also a very relatable character. Her teenage angst and personal growth creates a connection point for every viewer, that connection makes her the perfect messenger. In film a character is nothing without a great performance and Amandla Stenberg is simply remarkable as Starr Carter. She is disarmingly charming and wildly charismatic. Whether it be punching the dashboard of a Range Rover or vacantly staring at the police department, she fills the screen and it is impossible to take your eyes off her. Starr is a very well developed character but Stenberg brings her to life.
As Starr processes watching her friend die in front of her, we are privy to what that experience is like in all of its gut-wrenching horror. The confident and joyous young woman that was introduced melts into a scared young woman that is full of doubt and questions. Stenberg plays them both with a vulnerability that jumps through the screen. Her progression through grief and self-doubt to the inspirational face of a movement was awe-inspiring. The effectiveness of this film hinges on Stenberg’s performance and she delivered in a huge way. The supporting cast also delivered inspiring performances, most notably Starr’s parents Lisa Carter (Regina Hall) and Maverick Carter (Russell Hornsby). They guided Starr and worked as the emotional center of the story. At times they were saying things to her that we as an audience needed to hear and other times they were saying things we wanted to tell her. The Carters represented so much more than just Starr’s parents. They were also a beautiful depiction of marriage and parenting.
The Hate U Give doesn’t feel like a political film, even though it addresses some political ideas head on. Weaved through the fabric is a coming of age story. When Starr finds herself in the middle of a political firestorm the choices she makes will help develop the person she will become. Her two worlds have come together unexpectedly and she is forced to face things that she wasn’t previously prepared to face. How does one deal with blatant cultural appropriation or confront those same people for using a tragedy for personal gain? Do blue lives matter also? Was the cop justified in his actions because Khalil reached into the car? The audience is faced with these same questions at the same time as Starr. As she maneuvers these muddy waters we see just how complicated and divisive it all can be. Starr loses friends, receives death threats and even gets shot at, all because she spoke out about the injustices she saw. This further humanizes Starr but also shows just how difficult it is to speak out in the face of such a divisive topic.
Director George Tillman Jr. presents an excellent film. Thematically it’s heavy but never becomes overbearing. He balances the large number of themes perfectly and gives each time to make an impact. That impact is so effective because you are so invested in every character on screen. Tillman also brought an incredible attention to detail. It’s easy to see The Hate U Give’s literature source material. The details that are present in books are present on screen all throughout the film. The camera will linger on certain things to give you additional time to process as much as you can. It will also pan a room or setting, allowing you to take in all the details present in that place. This makes the world feel even more real and makes you all the more invested in it. It is a fantastically written film but it is also very well directed. In every aspect The Hate U Give is great.
With so much attention being paid to race in America, especially that of black people, The Hate U Give is very timely. There have been several films just this year to focus on this topic but this film addresses a particular audience that is often over looked in the conversation. Its source material is a Young Adult novel and I’ve personally seen kids as young as 13 reading the book. Its pacing and style lends more towards a younger audience. Even its delivery feels addressed more towards young people and that made the film even more effective. There is an authenticity and innocence to it that is disarming. All of this makes The Hate U Give an important film for that audience in particular. It speaks to them and sometimes for them and will definitely inspire them. With that being said, The Hate U Give is a must watch for anybody. It is an important film that is saying something important for everyone to hear. Its cleverly packed its message in a truly crowd pleasing experience. Not only does it have a great message, it’s one of the best films of the year. The only unfortunate thing is the people that need to see this film, probably won’t.
4 1/2 out of 5 stars
Director: George Tillman Jr. Writer: Audrey Wells (screenplay by), Angie Thomas (based on the novel by) Starring: Amandla Stenberg, Regina Hall, Russell Hornsby Release Date: October 19th Rated: PG-13 Runtime: 2 hours and 13 minutes