Angie Thomas’ “The Hate U Give” is an award winning young adult novel about police brutality that transcends the genre’s audience. It elegantly handles difficult themes and illustrates nuanced aspects of life for young black Americans.
The novel has now been adapted into a major motion picture by 20th Century Fox. Directed by George Tillman Jr. (“Notorious,” “The Longest Ride”), the film version might be even more stunning and heartbreaking than the book.
The movie centers on Starr Carter and her existence between two worlds. She lives in the predominantly black neighborhood of Garden Heights. Her father is a former member of the King Lords, a drug running gang that has a hold over the neighborhood. He makes them memorize the Black Panther Party’s Ten-Point Program and teaches them from an early age that their skin color will affect their interactions with the police.
As she states in the movie, the school in their neighborhood is a place to get jumped, high or pregnant. Starr and her brothers instead go to Williamson, a prep school full of wealthy, white individuals. At Williamson she doesn’t use slang, she doesn’t show her anger and she masks anything that would give someone a reason to call her “hood.” At home, she can’t act as she does at school, and she definitely can’t talk about her white boyfriend. She has learned to balance the competing aspects of her life, not quite perfectly, but enough for her to maintain the appearance of a normal life in both worlds.
That balance is shattered when she witnesses the shooting of her friend Khalil during a traffic stop. Starr’s life is changed as she faces pressure from her community, law enforcement and the King Lords. She has to decide whether she will risk her life and speak out for her friend or remain silent.
The excellence of this movie stems largely from the driving force of Amandla Stenberg’s performance. She leads the film as Starr Carter. It is a complex role with an expansive emotional range within single scenes. Her performance is vulnerable, passionate and award-worthy.
With subject matter this complicated, a multitude of perspectives have to be represented and the cast of this film all give themselves over to their role. Common (Carlos, Starr’s uncle) has a powerful scene in the latter half of the film that sympathizes with the police force. Sabrina Carpenter’s role as Hailey, one of Starr’s friends from prep school, raises a dialogue on white privilege and microaggressions. TJ Wright, who plays Starr’s little brother, gives a standout performance for someone so young in a film with such mature content. Regina Hall, Russell Hornsby and Issa Rae also give fantastic performances.
Though it is becoming more common, it is still remarkable to see an abundantly African American cast leading a film that isn’t about slaves or a historic figure. Minority communities are starting to see a range of narratives about people that look like them. For black audiences, “Black Panther” was the escapist film of the year and “The Hate U Give” is a reality grounded companion piece.
I was extremely hopeful going into this film. In these tumultuous times we are living in, a movie like this has the potential to act like a salve on the wounds caused by the daily onslaught of emotional pain and stress of the news.
This film exceeded my high expectations, and watching it was a cathartic experience. I found myself crying watching the film, not from any scene in particular, but because of how accurate and moving this fictional work is. It reminds you that Black Lives Matter is more than just the names we know from the hashtags, it’s about all of us who are still living too.
It isn’t all tears either. The film is also funny, heartwarming and empowering. It is a movie you should experience with other people, so that you can feel other people’s reactions and talk about it afterwards. It is an excellent tool for empathy and wonderfully depicts a vein of modern black America. Everyone should watch this film.