Maria McQuillan, Arts & Entertainments Co-Editor.
The Hate U Give does not pull any punches. The first scene and opening to the film is the father Maverick (Russell Hornsby) giving his children a copy of the Black Panther ten-point program and telling them that they better start learning it, because he will test them about it. This film was adapted from a YA novel and it’s letting us know immediately that this is nothing to scoff over. The only thing YA about this story is the age of its characters.
I thought that I had the measure of the film before I walked in, but it really did shock me. The plot of the film is well paced and really holds your attention throughout, and the film ably deals with both the unjust killing of Khalil (Algee Smith) and the micro-aggressions and prejudice Starr (Amandla Stenberg) deals with in the aftermath. Before Khalil’s death, we are shown how Starr must tread lightly between two worlds to avoid offending either: the black community she has inseverable ties to and the white community of her school which offers her the precious way out that her parents desire for her. An impossible task as the film soon proves. After Khalil’s death, Starr finds herself unable to pretend that she can stay in that middle neutral ground, and the film does not hold back from showing us the stark reality of the difference between the insular white community and the Black projects. We are shown, time and again, how easy it is for black young men and women to become trapped in what they see as a way out, and the real sucker punch of the film is shown in the different way white and black people are treated by police and the rest of the world.
The police are, of course, a focus of the film but other focuses are shown through Starr’s friendship with her white friend Hailey (Sabrina Carpenter), who heartbreakingly displays arguably some of the worst kind of prejudice in the film. Once Starr begins to defend herself and her community, her pal decides that Starr is becoming ‘dangerous’ to her. The media too is not spared as the film gives a scathing indictment of the white bias of American media in defending the white cop over the unarmed young black man. The Hate U Give ably shows us the different ways in which the way black people are treated by the media, the white community and the black community that benefit by hurting other members of their own group creates a self-perpetuating cycle, which shows us the true complexity of being black in America today.
The film is made even more poignant by the fact that Kian Lawley, who had originally portrayed Chris, Starr’s white boyfriend, was cut from the film because a video emerged in which he had used racial slurs. There’s something rather heart-breaking about that and props to the film makers for making a point to cut him. There is no excuse for that kind of language. He was replaced by KJ Apa, best known from the Netflix series Riverdale, who does an admirable job playing the funny and charming boyfriend. Amandla Stenberg is, of course, the breakout actor in the film as she really proves her ability to engage the audience completely. She’s a real delight to watch and showcases well how far she has come from playing Rue in The Hunger Games. Anthony Mackie is the only one I would consider to be poor – he plays the local gang leader King – as he comes off a little lacklustre for most of the film. I expected him to be a bit more menacing or charismatic at least, and he falls short of Russell Hornsby for example, who he is up against in most scenes and completely out-acts him.
The Hate U Give is a deeply emotive and thought-provoking film. The film shows us how the odds are really stacked against the black community in America: from everyday prejudice to systemic inequality that is even perpetuated by members of their own community. It’s a gritty look into the reality of the Black Lives Matter movement and the horror of police brutality.
Director: George Tillman Jr.
Starring: Amandla Stenberg, Algee Smith, Russell Hornsby and Anthony Mackie
Run-time: 132 mins