The Hate U Give is a film crafted for emotional impact. Amandla Stenberg is striking as 16-year-old Starr, a girl caught between. She lives in Garden Heights, a fictional, predominantly black neighbourhood scavenged by police and local gangs alike. But to Starr, Garden Heights means family; her father’s grocery store is central to the town. And although Starr loves her community, she doesn’t attend the local, run-down high school; she and her brothers go to Williamson Prep, the private school across town where rich white kids use black slang and Starr code-switches in order to survive.
She manages to keep her two worlds separate until her childhood friend Khalil is shot dead by a white police officer at a cop stop after a party. As the killing’s only witness, Starr is forced into conflict between friends and family, silence and statement, safety and courage.
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Based on Angie Thomas’ 2017 young adult novel, screenwriter Audrey Wells, who passed away last October, successfully developed Starr’s voice into one of the first accurate cinematic depictions of the Black Lives Matter movement, and specifically, its Generation Z teenagers who move between homework and activism with grace and strength.
George Tillman Jr’s (Notorious, The Longest Yard) direction is evidence of rigorous intention. It’s not the most subtle of movies, meaning the tone often feels clumsily direct. Then again, there’s nothing subtle about the racism that underpins all-consuming structural oppression.
The film perhaps goes a little too easy on the cops, but so does the U. S. justice system. Regina Hall is excellent as Starr’s cautious mother, and Russell Hornsby equally brilliant as her staunch, devoted father. New Zealand’s own KJ Apa stars as Starr’s fumbling, earnest white boyfriend. A robust portrait of the contemporary condition, The Hate U Give is a starkly effective film for teenagers concerned with the effort towards a better world.