Imagine being a 16-year-old girl who takes on systematic racism and manages the balancing act of gaining her self-confidence.
That is the premise of the movie “The Hate U Give,” which is based off a debut novel by Angie Thomas published following the 2009 police shooting of an unarmed, 22-year-old Black male, Oscar Grant. She captures a range of concerns and events throughout the novel that have animated the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as broader conversations about race: police shootings of young, unarmed black men; an asymmetrical justice system; gang violence; and much more which is also portrayed throughout the movie.
‘The Hate U Give’ also adopts its title and central philosophy from a concept created by Tupac Shakur, a rapper who had “THUG LIFE” tattooed across his torso. This phrase was an (admittedly profane) acronym which stood for a vicious cycle of societal violence, “The Hate U Give Infants ‘Effs Everybody.” Tupac’s philosophy suggests that this way of life
encourages those caught up in the system of violence, drugs, and oppression should stop transferring their hatred to children and teach them to break out of that destructive cycle.
The film was directed by George Tillman Jr., who was faced with multiple obstacles while creating the film. While trying to refrain from strong language and showing too much violence, he wanted to create a film to catch the attention of a younger audience. Although he faced one dilemma after the next, there was not a dull moment throughout the film. I truly enjoyed the authenticity and outcome of the movie.
The film opens with a powerful scene of Starr Carter (Amandla Stenberg) recalling the time when her father, Maverick Carter (Russell Hornsby), gives “the talk” to her younger self and two brothers. A heartbreaking conversation, it is one parents of black children have to teach them ways to avoid being injured or killed by a police officer.
I think Tupac’s mindset is what Maverick tried to exemplify for his family and hoped that the conversation instills a sense of pride in his children.
As she gets older, Starr begins to switch between living in two separate worlds. By day, she is surrounded by rich, mostly white prep high school teens at Williamson High School, including her friends Hailey (Sabrina Carpenter), Maya (Megan Lawless) and her white boyfriend, Chris (KJ Apa). This Prep-school version of Starr Carter avoids using slang to avoid bringing attention to herself as “ghetto.”
When not at school, Starr is another girl. She lives with her parents and two brothers in a poor, mostly Black neighborhood called Garden Heights in Atlanta.
She tries her best to balance these two worlds, but ultimately shatters when she witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend, Khalil Harris (Algee Smith) at the hands of a police officer.
In all honesty, the scene of the shooting was rather difficult to watch. The officer on the scene was inexplicably aggressive and demanding while performing a routine traffic stop, and Khalil’s defiance did not help the situation. Despite Starr’s pleas for Khalil to cooperate, when asked to step out of the car, Khalil reaches back in the front seat to grab his hairbrush. The officer panics and mistakes the object for a gun, and ends Khalil’s life.
What truly makes “The Hate U Give” work is the performance of Stenberg, who carries much of the film’s drama and levity on her shoulders. I also found Starr’s ‘code switching’ at the beginning of the film to be rather intriguing, as she tries to keep her two worlds separate while battling with her insecurities throughout the movie.
The film’s driving plot begins with Khalil’s death and Starr begins to struggle with self-doubt. Throughout the movie, she has bouts with lack of confidence and becomes more outspoken. I think the aftermath of the incident is what pushes Starr to find her voice as an activist.
A few scenes later, it shows issues of racial tension as the students at Williamson run down the halls shouting, “Black Lives Matter!” as an excuse to cut class rather than understanding the deeper importance the controversy that is building up.
I would think that for Starr, it had meant something completely different. Starr and her friends struggle with racism, though Starr recognizes it and tries her best to move past it. But there were a few moments in the film when she is willing to confront her peers regarding the issues.
After Khalil’s murder, there is civil unrest. Crowds of protesters turn violent, smashing windows, burning vehicles, and damaging buildings. At such a young age, it is hard to fully understand how any teenager would handle being in these tough situations.
Starr’s Uncle Carter, who is a police officer, also tries to explain why tensions might be high when a cop pulls someone over in rough-edged area of town. But even his explanations fall short of trying to justify the police brutality seen in the movie.
“The Hate U Give” is a stunningly powerful film about the impact of police violence and racism on the Black youth of America. The brutality and the truth in the movie’s harsher moments may be difficult for some viewers, especially those who share many of the experiences of Starr or her family members. Although, the honesty of the film assures the movie is not too exploitative for young viewers. It was heartwarming to see the young character, Starr Carter, find her voice and stand up for what is right.
I give “The Hate U Give” a 10 out of 10.