The Hate U Give
Director: George Tillman Jr.
Writer: Audrey Wells
Based on: Angie Thomas’ novel
Cast: Amandla Stenberg, Regina Hall, Russell Hornsby, Anthony Mackie, Issa Rae, Common, Algee Smith, Sabrina Carpenter, K.J. Apa, Dominique Fishback, Lamar Johnson, TJ Wright
Seen on: 18.8.2022
Content Note: police brutality, (critical treatment of) racism
Starr (Amandla Stenberg) lives in the rather poor, mostly black neighborhood of Garden Heights. But she has been attending the richer, white prep school a little outside of Garden Heights for a while, so she has been out of touch a lot with her childhood friends. So when she attends a party in Garden Heights and she runs into her former best friend Khalil (Algee Smith), she is overjoyed. When the party disperses in a rush after somebody pulls a gun, Khalil gives Starr a ride home. And then the police stop them for a traffic check – an encounter that Khalil doesn’t survive: he is shot by the police officer. Starr is left traumatized and the only witness – and she has to figure out how to deal with both facts.
The Hate U Give is a strong film with a slightly bewildering ending. But given the, unfortunately still timely, topic and Stenberg’s fantastic performance, it really hits home.
I was deeply impressed when I read the book a few years ago. And then I missed the film in the cinema for some reason (wasn’t it released? was it only released in German? was it only shown for a week or two and I couldn’t make it? I don’t remember), and now it took me some time to catch up with it. Anyway, the film didn’t quite impress me as much as the book did back then, but it still impressed me a lot.
It’s a harrowing story, and Tillman Jr. and Wells work it well, so you really feel its impact. I challenge anyone not to feel the horror of giving your children a talk on how to survive a police encounter – the opening scene of the film. But it would have only worked half so well if it hadn’t been for Stenberg’s frankly breath-taking performance. She gives the role her all, and it works. As Starr’s world shifts, she has to change, too, and Stenberg leads us through this every step of the way. Would I have minded if she had led us with less voice-overs? Not at all. But that’s a script problem and not her delivery.
I was a little taken aback by the ending, though. I don’t remember if the novel ends on the same note, or if that was the film’s take, but anyway, in the end, Starr has the realization that “Black on Black violence” is also a problem, and her world is basically fixed when the police take away the area’s drug dealer King (Anthony Mackie), and both felt absolutely weird conclusions for the film to draw. I mean, sure, King is not a good dude, and I didn’t expect the film to go full abolitionist, but maybe another focus would have done the trick as well.
Other than that, though, it is a film that makes part of the racist system in the USA very visible and accessible for the audience, whether Black or not. It touches on many things, both explanatory for a white/non-Black audience, and stuff that feels more like intra-community discourse. These things bear repeating, I’m afraid. Hopefully, The Hate U Give will open the eyes of a few more people to the injustice of the situation – and to inspire some more to raise their voices against it.
Summarizing: excellent political cinema.