Police brutality towards African-Americans has been a heated socio-political issue since before the 90’s LA Riots, having recently surged again in the 2010’s after Trayvon Martin’s shooting and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement. Whilst a lot of films have been influenced by these movements, The Hate U Give is the first young-adult (YA) film to tackle it. The YA genre has been long overdue in tackling a serious topic like this, The Hate U Give thankfully rises to the occasion and is genuinely engrossing.
Starr Carter (Amandla Stenberg) lives with her family in a largely black populated suburb. Her father Maverick (Russel Hornsby) is a former gang member who is acquaintances with King (Anthony Mackie), a drug dealer who acts as an eventual enemy to his family. One night during a party, she meets and reconnects with old friend Khalihal (Algee Smith), who then drives her home, only to be pulled over by a white police officer. During this confrontation, the officer shoots Khalihal dead after assuming he was drawing a gun. Starr is traumatised by this, but soon must find the courage to take part in the protests caused by this event, give evidence for a trial and fight against the misconceptions and unspoken prejudices some people have about African-Americans.
The main issues focused on in the story are handled very well and are showcased in such a confrontational manner that white viewers may feel they are under scrutiny. Despite this, the film is in no way preachy with its themes, especially because most characters in the film have shades of both black and white (excuse the pun) morality. The presence of this subject matter and the various themes of violence, ignorance and injustice would be enough to stir emotions, but the film deals with them in a sincere and truthful way, making them far more effective.
Although it juggles quite a few plotlines, the story does not feel convoluted, like some book-to-film adaptations do. All the story threads are tied together by either the same themes or the same characters. Speaking of the characters, they are all likeable and well defined, with even the villainous characters feeling realistic and not stereotypical. The only who feels a little generic is Chris (KJ Alpha), Starr’s boyfriend, but he is at least given something to do in the second half.
Amandla Stenberg has been in several YA films, but here she gets her biggest and most substantial role. She excels at playing the various and disparate emotions that her character goes through, especially the trauma and anger, making the several sad and powerful scenes hit much harder. Elsewhere, Regina Hall and Russell Hornsby are excellent as her parents, especially Hornsby, who adds considerable depth to his character and makes him an intimidating yet sympathetic figure.
George Tillman Jr’s direction is both the strongest and weakest aspect of the film. The opening 25 minutes unfortunately feel very cheesy and awkward, with cliched dialogue, corny narration and ham-fisted foreshadowing. It was hard to get emotionally invested in something that seemed to have the quality of a CW Teen Drama. But after a major sequence in a diner, the filmmaking becomes much better, with an incredible blend of emotion, humour and tension. The third act especially is one of the most tense and emotional I have seen all year. The only awkward aspect that stays prominent throughout is Starr’s narration, which is used sparingly but feels very needless, only working in a courtroom sequence.
The Hate U Give is an effective and crowd-pleasing drama that throws a lot of challenging themes at viewers yet is also intelligent enough to not feel too preachy. The emotions that it will most likely stir in you make it worth watching and discussing.
P.S. Watch this directly after Black KKKlansman to have a great, yet depressing double feature.