The Hate U Give
Though the moves make it seem like being a teenager in America is the same wherever you are, that’s not the case. Gone are the Breakfast Club days of waxing nostalgic for the archetypes of the Jock or the Princess. Now we’re able to have a dialogue about the varying strata within high school life. The Hate U Give shows, in brutal realism, one family’s experience of being black in America today.
The Hate U Give pulls no punches and doesn’t allow the audience to ease into the story by getting to know the characters in a casual setting first. The first time we see the Carter family patriarch, Maverick (Russell Hornsby), he’s teaching his young children how to act when a police officer approaches them. Not if, when. How many white families can relate to this family meeting? This is a necessary discussion in the Carter family, and it sets the tone for the rest of the drama.
Flash forward to current day, when those two young kids are now in high school together. Starr (Amandla Stenberg) and her older brother Seven (Lamar Johnson) are straddling worlds. Still living in the old, not geographically specific neighborhood of Garden Heights and attending the nearby Catholic school Williamson, Starr is always putting on a bit of a performance to fit in to one world or another. Code switching, and an overly-eager boyfriend, seems like her biggest problems until Starr witnesses her childhood friend Khalil (Algee Smith) get shot by police during a “routine” and wholly unnecessary traffic stop.
Starr’s life, and the lives of her tight-knit family, all seem to go off the rails in slow motion. Starr is a reserved girl who just wants to go under the radar in life. This sudden attention and pressure to either speak up or keep quiet is far too much for her to bear alone.
The Hate U Give sticks closely to the all too realistic narrative in the film, and tells this story from Starr’s personal experience. While this means that the emotions are raw and the adults sometimes hard to understand, the level of introspection is on-par with that of a 16-year-old girl. The film asks big questions, knowing full well that there are no answers, but the level of nuance into the issues is a little simpler than we have seen in the past. More stylized and satirical approaches to the racial cruelties in America today, such as My Name Is Myeisha and Tales from the Hood 2, seem more willing to be critical, but also have a degree of fiction to allow the audience emotional distance.
Some of the performances in The Hate U Give are incredible. It would have been easy for Stenberg to merely cry for the last solid hour of the film. While she does do that, with good reason, she’s still able to convey varying degrees of hopelessness, rage, and empowerment through the tears. Some of the secondary characters are slightly cartoonish (especially the gang members and the racist white high schoolers), but given the large scope of people involved in the cast, this is excusable shorthand.
The Hate U Give is powerful and should be compulsory viewing. Its simple approach to these complex issues is appreciated, and makes its clear point accessible to the young audience for whom it was created.