Movie Review: The Hate U Give (2018)

Title: The Hate U Give
Release Date: October 5, 2018
Director: George Tillman Jr.
Production Company: Fox 2000 Pictures | Temple Hill Entertainment | State Street Pictures

This movie, based on a young adult novel by Angie Thomas, addresses the issues of police violence and systemic racism through the story of a 16-year-girl Starr Carter (Amandla Stenberg).  Starr lives in the fictional low-income, Black majority neighborhood of Garden Heights (the film never specifically states where it takes place, but is was filmed in the Atlanta area), but attends an elite private school in a nearby town. Starr reflects on the dual identity she feels from having to behave in different ways at home and at school.

While at a party, Starr meets a childhood friend (and sometimes crush) she hasn’t seen in a long time, Khalil (Algee Smith).  Khalil drives her home and on the way they are pulled over by the police.  The situation escalates and the police officer shoots Khalil dead. As the only witness, Starr is faced with speaking out for Khalil at the risk of retribution from the police, the disruption of her school life, and angering the local drug kinpin (Anthony Mackie), for whom Khalil had worked as a dealer.

The familiar story of police violence we’ve seen through all too many news cycles – protests, failure to indict the police, violence – ensues, but told through Starr’s point of view it becomes a deeply personal story.  The movie benefits from Stenberg’s absolutely stellar performance as Starr. It is also is willing to eschew a cut and dry narrative for real-life complications.  For example, Starr’s father, Maverick (Russell Hornsby) is advocates for his children to confront racism head on, teaching them to learn the Black Panther Party Ten-Point Program.  Her mother, Lisa (Regina Hall) wants the children to focus on education and avoid conflict.  Both parents are able to air their views but continue to be a very loving couple. Starr’s Uncle Carlos (Common), a police detective, shows how even Black police officers internalize systemic racism.

The movie also excels in the fact that while Starr is in the middle of this crisis, her ordinary teenage school life goes with things like attending prom.  Starr must contend with her white classmates using a protest for justice for Khalil merely as an excuse to skip class, and the fragmentation of her relationship with her closest white friend, Hailey (Sabrina Carpenter).  Her white boyfriend, Chris (K.J. Apa), initially offers clueless race-blind platitudes, but grows to become a supportive ally.

This is a movie well worth watching, not just because it speaks to our times, but because it offers a very human – and ultimately hopeful – story.

Rating: ****