My Review of The Hate U Give (2018)

the hate u give
Image courtesy of Time: Amandla Stenberg as Starr Carter in The Hate U Give (2018).

3.8/5| Crime| Drama| 2hr 12m

Director: George Tillman Jr.
Screenplay: Audrey Wells
Cinematography:  Mihai Mălaimare Jr.

The Hate U Give opens with a very serious conversation: what to do when stopped by the police. Most black parents have had this conversation with their children, known as “The Talk” in the film. You immediately place your hands on the dashboard, fingers spread and you don’t move until you are told otherwise, because sudden movements “make cops nervous.” You answer respectfully and don’t do anything that could possibly put your life in danger. Maverick (Russel Hornsby) and Lisa Carter (Regina Hall)  give their children “The Talk” before they even reach double digits. They do everything in their power to keep their children out of harms way, even going as far as enrolling them in a predominately white private school to get them out of their dangerous neighborhood. This is where our lead character Starr (Amandla Stenberg) faces her daily dilemma of code-switching.

Starr goes out of her way to make sure that she is never “too black” for the white kids or  “too white” for the black kids. She has a boyfriend (Riverdale’s KJ Apa) and two privileged  friends (Sabrina Carpenter, Megan Lawless)  who use slang and listen to rap music, despite the fact that she never does either of those things in front of them. (She doesn’t want to give them a reason to ever call her “ghetto.”) Her struggle to keep her two worlds separate has put a strain on many of her relationships.  However, these worlds collide when she sees her childhood best friend, Khalil (Algee Smith), get murdered by a white police officer after he mistakes a hairbrush for a gun. She is the sole witness and this is where her turmoil lies. Does she speak up and face harassment from, not only the local police, but the drug kingpin, un-ironically named King (Anthony Mackie), who Khalil sold drugs for? Or does she remain silent and let Khalil become just another unarmed black man whose life was cut short by a trigger-happy police officer?

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Image courtesy of The New York Times: Megan Lawless, Amandla Stenberg and Sabrina Carpenter as Maya, Starr and Hailey in The Hate U Give (2018).

Due to the the film’s roots as a young adult novel written by Angie Smith, it sometimes plays like a soapy teen drama. In fact, it has all of the characters and basic high school tropes that you would usually see in a CW show, but with a twist. It’s from the point of view of a middle-class black girl, which means that her problems and concerns are more complex than what we usually get to see. This movie could easily be written off as a Social Justice Warrior after school special, but the acting done by Stenberg and Hornsby, as well as the direction, elevate this to a prestigious piece of art. I have been a fan of Stenberg since I first saw her in The Hunger Games (2013), and I knew she was talented, but this is definitely a career high for her. The way she is able to seamlessly jump from emotion to emotion is like someone who has been acting for 20 years, not seven. She is the main reason this film works as well as it does, but she doesn’t carry it all on her own. Hornsby is a scene-stealer, and I would be more than surprised if he isn’t in the running for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination next year. He was just fantastic.

Director George Tillman Jr. (Soul Food, Barbershop, Notorious) has to accomplish a balancing act. He has to tell an emotionally heavy story that doesn’t come off as too preachy, but also doesn’t mince words, and even though there are a few hiccups along the way, I believe that he accomplishes that. This film is exquisitely crafted and his direction is nothing to scoff at. His attention to detail in relation to the internet, news coverage and social cues sets it apart from other socially conscious films we’ve seen before and its clear why he’s been working for so many years. He plays with color in a way that I thought worked really well.  Color doesn’t just play a role in the film in regards to race, but in regards to the emotions felt from scene to scene by Starr. When she is at home or around her neighborhood friends, the scenes are shot in warmer colors, to represent love and safety, but when she is at school or around (white) people who don’t understand her, the scenes are shot in cooler colors, to represent how out of place she feels. It’s the little things that make this film special.

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Image courtesy of The Hollywood Reporter: Amandla Stenberg and Algee Smith as Starr and Khalil in The Hate U Give (2018).

What I like most about this film is its modern setting. So often filmmakers try to set these stories in the past ( Ex. The Help (2011)), and while those films tend to be  enjoyable, I feel like they breed the issue of separation. People (mainly fake progressive white folks) get to safely set themselves apart from the racist villains of these kinds of movies because they, themselves, aren’t the typical twirling their mustache under a “Whites Only” sign-type that we’ve been groomed to recognize and hate as a collective. This film shows that sometimes, especially in today’s social climate, racism and micro-aggression is subtle. Even your best friend could be a problematic racist and you’ve just never noticed because the opportunity has never presented itself.

This film does not explore new territory, especially if you are a black person. Majority of the points presented in this may feel obvious to you because it feels like we’ve heard all of them before. Actually, it seems like every couple of months Hollywood cranks out one of these socially aware tearjerkers that are suppose to inspire us to understand the plights of others, but we ultimately just end up rolling our eyes at them. Despite its similarities to things we’ve seen time and time again, this film is nothing to roll your eyes at and you may often find yourself scrounging for a tissue from time to time.

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