The Hate U Give is a timely and necessary film with a dynamic leading lady


The Hate U Give shines thanks to the amazing lead, Amandla Stenberg, and a thought-provoking story that breaks down sensitive topics.

When Angie Thomas’ novel, The Hate U Give dropped in 2017, readers were captivated by the nuanced, incisive way it tackled the subject of police brutality and racism for a teen audience. In that time, with teens commonly putting themselves front and center to discuss tough political issues, there’s a growing awareness and desire to break down these topics.

The children are our future, and to assume they’re stupid because they’re young is a fallacy. The adaptation of Thomas’ novel is an equally heated drama, tackling the various shades of gray in a topic that’s been brewing since time immemorial. Amandla Stenberg’s shining performance anchors everything, making The Hate U Give one of the year’s most unforgettable movies.

Starr Carter (Stenberg) has grown up in Garden Heights her whole life, a city as dominated by love and community as it is violence and drugs. Star attends a predominately white prep school, leading her to live two lives as Starr and “Starr 2.0.” When an old friend is shot and killed in front of her by a policeman, Starr is forced to question both the ties to her community and the inherent prejudices in the people she thinks she can trust.

Audrey Wells’ screenplay pulls no punches with Starr declaring “I was 9 years old when I first got the talk.” The talk, in this case, is referencing to how to act when stopped by police. Quizzed regularly by her ex-Black Panther father, Maverick (Russell Hornsby), Starr learns to put her hands in plain sight and always telegraph her moves. Similar to this year’s Blindspotting, there’s a sadness and frustration that children and teens of color need to learn this at all.

Much of what makes Wells’ script so expressive, though, is the discussions Starr, her family, and relatives have regarding the many facets of living as a black person in a world where the police are the enemy.

Starr has already endured the loss of a childhood friend before, but it’s the death of another friend, Khalil (Algee Smith) that torments her. Director George Tillman, Jr. allows his camera to capture things in their unrelenting suspense and futility. When Starr and Khalil are pulled over, she immediately puts her hands on the dashboard and the camera never leaves the car. The audience is put in Starr’s POV as she watches Khalil, in a moment of misguided humor, reach for a hairbrush before being gunned down.

What unfolds over the subsequent two hours is an emotional rollercoaster as Starr decides whether to testify against the police officer and deal with the fallout of from her friends and loved ones about the world they live in. Tupac Shakur’s “Thug Life” is the film’s motto: “the hate you give little infants f*cks everybody,” alluding to the societal standards passed down from each generation, particularly towards children of color.

Starr understands Khalil is just one of many, and the story nicely opens up toward exploring the societal mores that have led to such a hostile relationship between African-Americans and the police. As Starr decides whether to testify, she questions the motives of those around her, from her cop uncle (Common) to her best friend (Sabrina Carpenter). Hearing the flagrant dichotomies from others – her uncle saying he’d tell a white man to put his hands up – leaves Starr more confused.

Amandla Stenberg, best known to young audiences for her previous role in The Hunger Games, is a powerhouse. As a young girl torn between her own sense of right and wrong and the grander world at large, Stenberg conveys it all with frustration and righteous indignation. When she finally snaps, it’s a moment of unmitigated anger, a deep scream that’s been building for years. For women right now, it’s a mood they understand.

She’s complemented by a superb ensemble cast, particularly Russell Hornsby as her father, Maverick. The character of an ex-gang member raising a family could have been stereotypical, but between the script’s verisimilitude and Hornsby’s performance, it creates a fully realized man. One who quizzes his children on the Black Panther’s 10-point plan, but can still be awkward around his daughter’s boyfriend. When he declares “I didn’t name you Starr by accident,” it’s a war cry, a passing of the torch from father to daughter, and both actors are on fire.

This isn’t to say the other actors can’t compete. Regina Hall as the sensitive Lisa Carter, Starr’s mother, isn’t relegated to being the supportive matriarch. She’s a woman who makes mistakes in the process of protecting her daughter, but has deep-rooted reasons for doing so. Her chemistry with Hornsby is intense, creating a rich history for their marriage. Smith as Khalil also does a lot with a little, playing a good-looking young man with a bright smile who could just as easily be a homecoming king if things were different. Without speaking, he’s a chronic presence in the narrative, reminding audiences of the possibilities with the life that’s taken.

At over two hours, there are facets of the story that seem present purely because of their being in the novel. On top of Khalil’s death, Starr deals with Garden Heights’ local drug kingpin, appropriately named King (Anthony Mackie), who doesn’t want Starr to testify.

His presence is required – the media wants to focus on Garden Heights’ drug problems – but Mackie ends up being a stereotypical villain and his end is a bit too clean for a movie focused on problems with no easy solution. There are also extreme vacillations in tone – the family laughing at home immediately segues into a scene of extreme violence – that break up the dourness of the feature, and that barely give you time to breathe.

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The Hate U Give is a must-see drama with shining performances from Stenberg and Hornsby. It’s amazing to see how many woman-led movies are out now, and The Hate U Give understands that young women are important and are set to rise up for a revolution.