… the poor, mostly black neighborhood where she lives and the wealthy, mostly white prep school that she attends. When she witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend at the hands of a police officer, this uneasy balance becomes even more tenuous. Facing pressure from all sides of the community, Starr must find her voice and decide whether or not to stand up for what’s right.
The Hate U Give is an explosively honest racial drama in most rights, charting extremely relevant and topical issues in today’s society, namely police brutality, white privilege, cultural appropriation and black-on-black violence and, to some extent, internal racism.
Audrey Wells has adapted Angie Thomas’ beautifully eloquent story about the travails of being black and the plethora of assumptions that come with it. Being caught between two worlds as she is, Starr faces a lot of prejudice from her neighbourhood friends, for not being “black enough“; not dressing to entice boys, not speaking as much slang as her friends, and for having white friends. However, she faces just as much prejudice in her school life, being expected to always be friendly, have hair which resembles her white counterparts rather than allowing her natural hair to be free and essentially being only allowed to exist as the “non-threatening” version of a black girl. Even dating a white boy makes her a socially unacceptable element in some of her schoolmates’ eyes. In other words, they think, “why would he date her over us?“
The finding of Starr’s voice is beautiful, albeit, a bit fragmented to watch. The screenplay seems to make Starr (Amandla Stenberg) take two steps forward and then back every time she finds strength. For example, she decides to give an interview about the shooting of her friend, putting herself on the line, only to be then considered a snitch by her own neighbourhood. Then, when she stands up for her own people, the mainly white police, put her down. It feels as if from all corners there is resistance to changing the status quo and by the end, one questions if she has had any impact on the way things are. However, Starr does personally find her voice and perhaps that was the author’s message; that the only way to effect change is to find our voices individually until there is a sea of ones making a chorus of many.
The acting is superb across the board. Stenberg delivers the strongest performance of her career but not in my opinion, her most artistically nuanced. To show the difference in her worlds, she falls into some grating stereotypes, “mmhmm-ing” and sassing her way through her neighbourhood interactions whilst putting “spit and polish“on all her words at school. For the sake of film scope, I understand how the variation is important to demarcate but do feel it over-egged the difference and, again, made the concept of “how to be black” very polarising, when, there are many ways to be black and therefore speak. A case in point is the fact that her own mother (Regina Hall) did not over-do her “street” talk and neither did her ex-gang affiliated father (Russell Hornsby) at any point.
In terms of standout performances, the accolade goes to Hornsby as ‘Maverick Carter‘, a father seeking to keep his children safe whilst giving them an understanding of the value, power and inherent danger in their melanin. He won me over in the first scene and kept me throughout the film with his strength and yet vulnerability as a black man trying to work against a system designed to keep our people down, whilst ensuring his children do not become names on the list of those who struggled and fatally lost. His character beautifully highlights the good and bad of the concept, “Remember who you are. You are black (and) You are Royalty“.
Another aspect that bears highlighting about this story is the “Black Lives vs All Lives Matter” narrative that was well portrayed by Starr’s best friend at school, Hailey, played by Sabrina Carter. She is more than happy to support the “black” cause when it benefits her but is quick to fall into and support the ignorant stereotypes of black people being drug-dealers, already pre-fated to end up in jail, without using her expensive education to wonder why that is. She neglects to see, as so many do, how her white privilege gives her an ignorance that is toxic and damaging to the advancement of an equal society for all. What is beautiful about her performance is how lightly she takes these issues, oblivious as to why it is a problem for her black friend. Like a tourist unable to comprehend why locals get annoyed with them for not standing on the right on the escalator, she sees no harm in her opinions and that is the strength of Carter’s performance.
There are still casting issues that one could raise (and have been raised) about Stenberg playing Starr. However I think this was circumvented well in the film as the family look as one unit and one could argue that there should be no issue with Stenberg playing the role of a young black woman when, in the eyes of Hollywood, she is racialised as black and not often as mixed race anyway. I think she tackles the role with a mix of maturity and youth that creates an overall rather beautiful performance.
This film is a deeply educational piece for the masses. In a lot of ways, it will force the mirror up for society to look at itself and at least, start to think which side of the divide they fall on. Will they perpetuate the problem? Or will they persist in doing whatever they can to change it?
My hope is the latter.
The Hate U Give
Director: George Tillman Jr.
Writer: Audrey Wells
Cast: Amandla Stenberg, Issa Rae, Regina Hall, Russell Hornby, Common
Release Date: October 22nd, 2018