Film Review – The Hate U Give
The Hate U Give
Charlottesville, Trayvon Martin, Ferguson, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Freddie Grey; the headlines are filled with it. And those are just some of the most famous names. There is a staggeringly sad litany of incidents of unarmed black people being killed by police. Let’s face it, this country has a race problem. It’s been true since the Birth of the Nation (punny reference intended), and it will continue as long as we continue to gloss over it. Animosity, fear, misunderstanding, prejudice, assumptions, class divisions, all of it fuels racism. We need to talk about all of it and keep talking about all of it. We are never going to improve as a people unless we continually address this fundamental issue. The new teen drama The Hate U Give is about this very thing.
Amandla Stenberg (Rue from The Hunger Games) stars as Starr. She’s a smart teenager with a loving family who lives in a black neighborhood but goes to school at the mostly white private school across town. She admits through voiceover that she leaves “ghetto” Starr at home when she goes to school. She has a white boyfriend (K.J. Apa of Riverdale fame). She has white friends. But on the weekends, she’s with her people in the lower income area. One night when attending a party with her half-sister, she runs into her childhood friend Khalil (Algee Smith). She’s been on a different track in life with her school while Khalil has stayed where they grew up. They flirt and share a very sweet kiss. But while he’s driving her home, they are pulled over by the police for no reason. Through a panicked encounter on the side of the cop, Khalil is shot and killed in front of Starr. Since Starr is the only witness to the shooting, there is pressure for her to speak up. Her mother played by Regina Hall thinks she should stay quiet so as not to be stuck on the wrong side of the police and media attention. Her father, a dignified Russell Hornsby, is a former gang member who has been trying to free his family from the attentions of gang leader King (an intimidating Anthony Mackie). King doesn’t want it known that Khalil worked dealt for him so he wants Starr to remain silent. Most of the film is dedicated to the struggle and intense pressure is under about whether or not to speak.
This film creates a believably tense situation for any teenager to live through. Starr is an admirable and strong girl. Since this incident is so tied in the with her own identity and the identity that all African Americans share, she finds herself constantly torn. This is the second major film this year to address a black person having to reshape themselves for a white society. Sorry To Bother You was more comedic and surreal. It may have been the more creatively challenging film. And Spike Lee‘s BlacKKKlansman played with white people’s perceptions as well. But both of those were much more adult. This movie is aimed at a teenage audience and in doing so it helps to challenge that crowd.
The title is in reference to a Tupac lyric about passing hate along to children will end up coming back to you. So this movie is trying to dig a positive message out of all this. To it’s credit though, it’s not Pollyana-ish in it’s execution. The threat to Starr’s family from King is real. Her white friends trying to relate at times but other times cluelessly stating that All Lives Matter and they don’t see color introduces complexity. Starr’s strong family base is what really helps her in every part of her life. Her dad has drilled the messages from the Black Panthers about pride and self-worth into all of his kids. He’s made mistakes in the past but is willing to do anything for his family. Starr’s siblings are all bright and loving. This is a positive and charming family.
Also, Starr’s repeatedly correcting people about how Khalil was a person with likes and a personality of his own. The media and the police want to reduce him to the simple label of drug dealer to suit their own narratives. Her friends make assumptions. But one of the best parts of this movie is that these victims we see in the news are more than criminals or rowdy vagrants. They are people deserving as much empathy as anyone.
The Hate U Give is a little on the nose when it comes to delivering its morals. The points it has to make are sometimes drawn in big bold letters. But that will probably work well for the teen audience for which it’s suited. That’s fine. It’s extremely well acted, the issues it addresses are timely and real. It is quite a good movie and well worth discussing.
It also sadly crossed my mind how many coming of age stories for minorities have to deal with racial injustice. Don’t get me wrong, they likely have to because it’s an integral part of being a minority in America. So, they should. I just mean, white teenagers get to have John Hughes movies where a girl is sad because her family forgot her birthday or a trio of teenagers get to skip school for an epic day. Even The Breakfast Club, though it addressed some real issues like teenage suicide, depression, and abusive parents, it’s still easier to be those kids than these. It’s just sad that minority kids seem like they always have to deal with these existential issues of identity instead of getting to conjure up a fantasy woman while wearing a bra on their head (Weird Science) or committing lewd acts on baked goods (American Pie). Young African Americans in movies always have more to deal with. Even comedies like Friday or Barbershop have undercurrents of possible violence or police intimidation in them. Dramas from Boyz N The Hood to Straight Outta Compton to gentler movies like Akeelah and the Bee or Crooklyn, race is always an issue. And that’s correct. Racial identity is a constant factory. It’s just a bummer that it always has to be. Black people have all the problems every human being has plus the problems of being black.
I bring that up mainly because it’s relevant to The Hate U Give. Some of the strongest moments in the film are when Starr is trying to explain to privileged white friends what they don’t understand about being black. This movie strives to show what’s been going on behind those tragic headlines in a way that we can all understand.