“The Hate U Give” is a vital slice of cinema that doesn’t only deserve to be seen, but NEEDS to be seen! With only two months left in the year, I’ve had my top 4 films set in stone and I have no intention of changing them. “The Hate U Give” firmly locks itself in place as the third best film of the year. It’s a compelling tale that’s told with great energy and self-righteous anger, thanks largely to the skills of director George Tillman Jr, who without question does an exceptional job directing the best film of his career. Released by 20th Century Fox, “The Hate U Give” is a PG-13 film aimed at, but doesn’t come off as a film for the young teen audience. It’s the most affecting big screen take on Black Lives Matter and police violence since Ryan Coogler’s “Fruitvale Station”.
Based on the acclaimed young adult novel by Angie Thomas, with an extraordinary screenplay adaptation by Audrey Wells (who passed away last week). A lot of ground is tackled in the 2 hour and 15 minute run time that just rockets on by. It takes you through police violence, cultural appropriation and the stop snitching or I’ll kill you movement and more. It’s not easy topics for a PG-13 film, although Tillman Jr has been given more leeway than usual by the MPAA. It’s evident once the film over-reaches the one F word limit.
“The Hate U Give” is powerful, relevant, earnest and absolutely heartbreaking. It is not based on a true story but could easily be one. It’s an authentic slice of American life that unfortunately still happens to this day. Nearly everything that happens in “The Hate U Give” centers on or is filtered through the point of view of our main character Starr. Because of that it leans heavily on breakout star Amandla Stenberg’s performance as the smart, caring, beautiful and deeply conflicted character Starr. Amandla had just come off of her starring role in the “X-Men” rip-off and box office bomb “The Darkest Minds”. She comes through with a brilliant, natural and immensely effective performance. Her performance is the definition and prime example of a breakthrough making turn. She is headed to do big things in the future.
The title “The Hate U Give” which is explained in the film, stems from rapper Tupac Shakur, who turned “Thug Life” into an acronym that stands for “The Hate U Give Little Infants F***’s Everybody.” It’s a statement that expresses the cyclical, generational social structures that divide people, and sets them at arms against one another. George Tillman Jr explores that complex topic as a mission statement, which he takes on serious issues head on in its story and dialogue. Tillman Jr knows what issues must be explored, he knows not just because it’s important cinematically, but because acknowledging the inequities of the world and you as individual, deciding what you’re going to do about it is part of growing up.
Starr goes to an exclusive and mostly white prep school. At school she classifies herself as “Starr 2.0”, shrugging off casual racism, being overly pleasant and amenable, and never using any slang that a rapper or what you would hear in the hood. At home she lives in a working-class black neighborhood, she hides in plain sight in a hoodie and has no real intimate friends aside from her family. One night Starr goes to a party where she runs into her old childhood friend Khalil (Algee Smith, “Detroit”). As children, Starr and Khalil pretended to be “Harry Potter” characters, but now he’s supporting his addicted mother and cancer-stricken grandma by dealing drugs for King (played by Anthony Mackie best known as Falcon from “The Avengers”), a local crime lord. When a fight breaks out at the party, Khalil whisks Starr out for a drive, but when they get pulled over and Khalil gets shot and killed, she’s the one witness to the murder. She is faced with the life altering decisions to testify, jeopardizing her status at school and drawing King and his crew to threaten and try to kill Starr and harm her family? Or does she remain quiet, allowing Khalil to be just another unarmed black teenager cut down in his prime without consequences?
The gross injustice that befalls Khalil leads to protests, outrage, riots, and escalating tensions with the police. It’s a story that plays out all too often in the news and unfortunately still does today, and at no point does it ever ring false in “The Hate U Give”. The incident affects her in many ways and she gets set off with anger in many ways, especially when her white classmates at Williamson Prep stage a walkout and wield “Black Lives Matter” signs, but they seem more enthused about having an excuse to get out of school than being troubled by the tragedy.
“The Hate U Give” excels being beyond exceptional when it takes on difficult conversations, in which people express opposing points of view and Starr has to come to her own conclusions. It’s heartbreaking to watch her realize her white friends have no clue what she’s going through, and that some of them are only protesting Khalil’s murder to get out of school. There is a great sequence when we hear Starr have a conversation with her uncle Carlos (played by Common), a police officer who tries to explain the mindset of cops who feel threatened, are on high alert with traffic stops like Khalil’s situation and the shooting of potential suspects. It almost sounds like he’s making sense and you lean toward his side of the argument, until Starr comes back at him with an uncomfortable but unassailable argument and rebuttal.
Every single member of the cast is spot-on, with as mentioned Amandla Stenberg emerging as a future superstar in the lead role. The supporting cast too really shines, all of whom are impressively three dimensional. Her dad, Maverick played by “Fences” Russell Hornsby in an exceptional performance is the most interesting character and my favorite. He served as King’s former right hand man who served a stint in prison but has since gone straight. Depicted as a loving dad, he’s also bot some shades of grey, with having a macho streak. Maverick has fathered his son Seven outside of his marriage to Starr’s mom, Lisa (played by the beautiful and one of my favorites Regina Hall, who is also excellent). You get the impression that everyone involved in this film feels passionately about the subject matter.
The characterization is so rich that it makes “The Hate U Give” so absorbing, and you care so much for Starr that you really want everything to turn out ok for her and her family, Tillman Jr and Audrey Wells never pretends to have all the answers, especially when it comes to her Uncle (Common’s cop character) playing devil’s advocate to a degree.
“The Hate You Give” has the ability to connect with a broad audience and actually inspire, make positive changes and can really educate an audience. I found nothing wrong or one misstep in the entire film. This is an exceptional film, performances, writing and directing. Top 5 best films of the year.
GRADE: ★★★★★ OUT OF ★★★★★