Written by Audrey Wells, from a novel by Angie Thomas
Directed by George Tillman Jr.
Of this year’s many impressive films about the African-American experience, The Hate U Give must be the most thematically ambitious. It covers police brutality, inner-city neighborhoods, being black in an overwhelmingly white school, drug dealing, black-on-black violence, demonstrations, riots, parenting issues white people don’t have to worry about, and living in two different worlds.
And yet, the movie feels cohesive most of the time. Only the drug-dealing subplot feels forced, as if the filmmakers wanted to either get in one more message while creating extra suspense.
Starr (Amandla Stenberg) is a teenage girl, and she’s very much the focus of the film. She narrates and is in just about every scene. Over the course of the movie, she will grow and come into her own.
She lives in a poor, dangerous, overwhelmingly black inner-city neighborhood. But she and her two siblings have the advantages of strong and loving parents. When we first meet the family, years before the main story, their father (Russell Hornsby) is giving them the talk…the one about not getting a policeman angry.
To keep her safe and to get her a good education, Starr’s mother drives her every day to an expensive, overwhelmingly white, private school in a very different neighborhood. Here she avoids anything that appears “ghetto.” She has white friends, and even a white boyfriend, who likes her but don’t really understand her.
Then a cop kills a friend from her own neighborhood – and her own race. Starr witnessed the shooting. The cop takes Starr to the station in handcuffs for the “crime” of being in the passenger seat while black.
She has the option to keep her name out of the news, but everyone in the neighborhood knows that she’s the only witness to the killing. When the press anonymously interviews her, they want to talk about drugs. She finds it difficult to be with her rich, white friends, who don’t know. Her boyfriend insists that he “doesn’t see color,” and she responds with “If you don’t see I’m black, you don’t see me.”
Her close-knit family contains a police officer, and from him we get an explanation of why police are often trigger-happy. For a moment, you understand their situation, but Starr forces him to admit that if her friend had been white, he’d still be alive.
Stenberg gives a remarkable performance for someone her age (she turns 20 this month). In her performance we see Starr mature, accept responsibility, and become something of a movement leader, all the while dealing with the usual adolescent traumas. But then, Stenberg may be young, but she’s not inexperienced. IMBD gives her 15 acting credits, including an important role in The Hunger Games.
The Hate U Give opens at the Grand Lake this coming Thursday. It will open wide on October 19.
The movie’s major flaw comes at the end, and I can’t discuss it without a mild spoiler. So, if you don’t want even a hint about the ending, stop here.
The ending is very, very Hollywood. It’s as if the whole neighborhood becomes clean and safe. It’s a nice ending, but an unbelievable one for such an otherwise realistic film.