The Hate U Give, 2018.
Directed by George Tilman Jr.
Starring Amandla Stenberg, Regina Hall, Russell Hornsby, Lamar Johnson, Issa Rae, Algee Smith, Sabrina Carpenter, Common, K.J. Apa, Rayven Symone Ferrell, Myles Evans, TJ Wright, Megan Lawless, Rhonda Johnson Dents, Al Mitchell, Karan Kendrick, Andrene Ward-Hammond, Drew Starkey, Kurt Yue, Susan Santiago, Brian Lafontaine, Tanya Christiansen, Bianca Haley, Javon Johnson, Tony Vaughn, Marcia Wright, and Anthony Mackie.
When Starr (Amandla Stenberg) witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil (Algee Smith) at the hands of a white police officer, she must decide whether to stand up for what’s right in the face of mounting pressure from society, her friends, and the haters.
Adapted from the YA novel by Angie Thomas, The Hate U Give is an undeniably important movie, one that is part of a movement to bring about a change in the way this world has slipped off its axis. It’s a story imbued with fire-starting hope, one to trigger a generational uprising, as well as being a stark reminder of the cyclical pattern of oppression, and inspiration for change. It’s just a shame that these powerful themes and intentions are packaged in such an ordinary film.
Police brutality and institutionalised racism aren’t usually part of the synopsis for a movie aimed at young adults, so exposing them to such ideas within a genre usually concerned with soft-focus issues is a commendable approach. It’s these elements of The Hate U Give that work best. By positioning young relatable people in situations that the target audience might only glean through the desensitising viewing window of YouTube, it forces the viewer into requisitely uncomfortable situations, in the hope of prompting anger, discussion, and ultimately change.
At the forefront of what’s so powerful is an astonishing turn from Amandla Stenberg. Her character is called Starr, but this is a supernova of a performance. She’s a strong, socially aware young woman, who’s ground down by the obstacles placed in front of her by society, and Stenberg has the unerring ability to make her transition from affable teenager to fearless protester, feel never anything less than real. It’s not a showy performance, in fact much of her strongest work is in the economical way in which she says more with a look than the admittedly clunky dialogue.
It’s these inconsistencies that blight the overall impact of the film. At times it feels tonally off, with lines of power undermined in a beat by something comedic. There’s a scene in which Starr is having a debate with her white boyfriend, during which he says that he doesn’t see colour, to which she replies “then you don’t really see me”. It’s hard hitting, dramatic stuff, propelled by the brilliant Stenberg. However, mere seconds later they’re exchanging frivolous dialogue as if the impact of the moment has been missed. It’s a problem indicative of a film, which at over two hours, is probably thirty minutes too long. It’s because of this that pacing also becomes an issue. The momentum building up to Starr’s positioning as a movement leader is stifled, and when it does arrive, it can’t help but feel underwhelming as a result.
One aspect that’s undeniably successful is Regina Hall and Russell Hornsby as Starr’s parents. A couple with a moral compasses shaped by the world they live in, their guidance is more than just trite soundbites, and their personalities have real depth. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Hornsby’s name in a few envelopes come awards season.
If YA adaptations are to continue, then The Hate U Give is a step in the right direction, one which hopes to encourage the same forward momentum for the causes upon which it builds its narrative foundations. It might not be the best filmmaking, but its desire for change is one of the best reasons for making a film.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film ★ ★ ★ / Movie ★ ★ ★
Matt Rodgers – Follow me on Twitter @mainstreammatt