Angie Thomas’ debut young adult novel from the perspective of 16-year-old Starr Carter after viewing her childhood friend gunned down over an avoidable misunderstanding with authorities has had a meteoric rise in popularity. Now it's received a film adaptation, and if its source material is even half as hard hitting and raw as what I sat through in that theater, it’s easy to see why “The Hate U Give” is worth all its hype.
Like Aneesh Chaganty’s “Searching” from earlier this year, one of the movie’s most effective assets is its own timeliness, coming on the heels of high profile screw-ups of the justice system and law enforcement in the internet age. The film opens a dialogue about the power of perception and the hypocrisies of narratives woven by institutions that sell out those they swear to protect. In an age where diversity is a hot button issue every time people of color are granted center stage, “The Hate U Give” could have been a preachy and pedantic slog about the victimization of “good” black folk that match the image of “presentable” to a T. What it does instead is humanize.
Black people are presented as having a sense of unity and culture, but are all nevertheless distinct human beings; some are victims, others are criminals, many more simply go about their day. But they all feel like real breathing people with their own agendas and priorities, a testament to the atmospheric direction of George Tillman Jr.
Amandla Stenberg gives the breakout performance of her already impressive career, nailing the sense of a PTSD-stricken teenager forced to step up and become a voice of influence to seek justice for her departed friend in a manner nobody so young should have to, presenting a clarity to grey and complex issues that feel downright sobering as a reminder to how problematic the real world can get.
When confronting her police officer uncle, played stupendously by Common, she bluntly asks him, a Black man, whether he’d have done the same in that white cop’s shoes, as well as whether he’d have done so if he pulled over a white man in the suburbs driving an SUV. His cold but simple and honest response is as angering as it can be disappointing when you realize how much you may have sympathized with his viewpoint yourself at some point of your life.
There are no slouches in the cast, from a surprisingly subdued performance by KJ Alpa as Starr’s boyfriend having to learn to support her despite his inability to directly empathize with her circumstances, to Russell Hornsby and Regina Hall as her parents, pushing her to navigate a society that she has to thrive in despite discrimination she may face, and even to Anthony Mackie as a local gang leader, who manages to remain surprisingly human to punctuate the best scenes of the movie despite doing some of the most heinous actions within it.
Throughout the highs of its story’s emotional turmoil however, “The Hate U Give” is not about engendering distaste for those that stereotype and jump to conclusions, but rather a film that wishes to celebrate venturing beyond preconceptions of the past and present to make a better future.
Constraints of the YA literary style and its clear influence within the screenplay do hold the film back a tad from doing heftier dives into the sociological phenomena of its subject matter, which occasionally leads to frustrating tropes that dragged me out of immersion and back into the fact that I was watching a film, and does lead to an ending that feels a bit rushed despite the impressively brisk pacing of its runtime of over two hours.
These sort of hiccups do become more and more prevalent as “The Hate U Give” nears its climax but it’s faults shouldn’t deter you from watching it. It’s one of the best films of the year and I’ve seen adult dramas tackling race that don’t have the complexity and impact of this adaptation of a teen novel.
4 out of 5
Graduating from Texas A&M University—Commerce with a bachelor's degree in News and Editorial Journalism, Jordan Wright has lived most of his adult life professionally critiquing films, from major blockbusters to indie dramas, and has no intentions of stopping.