Was there anyone else awaiting a film that would tackle the polarizing contemporary issue of police brutality?
Well, wait no longer. That film has arrived.
Titled The Hate U Give, an adaptation of the novel by Angie Thomas, it’s a wonderful 133-minute long metaphor for the real-life experiences of everyday Americans. Meanwhile, it exposes the weighty underlying meaning of the late Tupac Shakur’s oft-uttered acronym, THUG LIFE.
The Hate U Give follows Starr Carter (Amandla Stenberg), a black teenager who lives in the predominately black and impoverished city of Garden Heights, Georgia. Her parents, Lisa (Regina Hall) and Maverick (Russell Hornsby), send her to a predominately white private school on the nice side of town. There she crafts a blase non-confrontational façade, “Starr Version 2,” helping her fit in and exist somewhat peacefully in this world that exists in stark contrast to her home life.
All of this changes when Starr’s childhood friend Khalil (Algee Smith) is shot and killed by a police officer. As the sole witness, Starr grapples with reconciling her façade with utilizing her voice and standing up for what is right regardless of the consequences.
The film wastes no time introducing the heavy subject matter at hand. The opening scene features Maverick giving Starr and her older half-brother Seven (Lamar Johnson) a lesson on what to do if ever pulled over by a policeman, framed by their father as a prideful survival tactic instead of a relegation of subservience.
From there the story seems set on a path that surrounds the duality of Starr’s home and school life. Until of course the big event that soaks this narrative in themes of racism, police brutality, family and standing up for what’s right. That’s one of the strong points of this movie, how it deftly balances so many moving parts. Also, how accurately it does so.
Stenberg delivers an outstanding performance and effortlessly brings to life the inner conflict of Starr that is decidedly pronounced throughout. Especially, as a political activist lawyer (Issa Rae), despite the protestations Lisa and Starr, urges her to go on television and testify against the policeman.
The film’s main antagonist though is not the trigger-happy policeman, but a gang leader named King (Anthony Mackie). He threatens violent recourse if Starr speaks too much, adding another layer of conflict to this story. All the while she has to deal with a racially insensitive environment created by her schoolmates, the guilt of not being there for a friend and a white boyfriend (KJ Apa), who, despite his earnest and genuine good nature, just doesn’t quite understand her struggle.
Moreover, The Hate U Give does a superb job offering characters as audience surrogate viewpoints. Starr’s policeman uncle Carlos (Common) and white friend Hailey (Sabrina Carpenter) represent the Blue Lives Matters ilk, giving the film a diversity of thought. However, the film remains steadfast in proving its’ point, in a few instances in a contrived heavy-handed way. Nonetheless, The Hate U Give is an emotionally captivating, moving film as it wonderfully weaves its’ message into a story that couldn’t be more fitting for our time…
THUG LIFE (The Hate U Give Little Infants F**** Everyone). Meaning the hatred and violence the youth are subjected to creates a perpetuating cycle which everyone suffers from. Through powerful performances, emotionally gripping scenes, evocative themes and a judicious screenplay by the late Audrey Wells, The Hate U Give converts this heavy message into a joyous consumption.