The Hate U Give
Like a YA cousin of Blindspotting, down to several parallel scenes, the timely, well-made The Hate U Give captures the psychological and emotional turmoil frequently experienced by witnesses in the aftermath of a police shooting.
Drawing its name from 2Pac’s “Thug Life” mantra/acronym, The Hate U Give Little Infants Fucks Everyone, the film is based on the best-selling novel by Angie Thomas and adapted by recently deceased filmmaker Audrey Wells (Under the Tuscan Sun), whose translation of the material from book to screen alongside director George Tillman Jr. (the underrated Biggie Smalls biopic Notorious) warrants praise.
Set firmly in the present, the film centers on high schooler Starr (Amandla Stenberg, The Darkest Minds), who lives with her reformed ex-con father Maverick (Russell Hornsby, Fences), loving mother Lisa (Regina Hall), and two brothers in the close-knit yet crime-infested neighborhood of Garden Heights — a fictitious section of a never-mentioned Atlanta, where the film was shot and all the cars have Georgia plates.
Accompanied by a welcoming, mood-setting hip-hop soundtrack, The Hate U Give tastefully employs narration by Starr to economically get her unspoken thoughts across as she mutes her urban behavior to better fit in at her predominately white private school.
The intelligent and kind young woman’s appeal grows through charming moments with her supportive white boyfriend Chris (K.J. Apa, TV’s Riverdale), though in that relationship and elsewhere in the school’s hallways, there’s some fuzziness in how she and siblings Seven (Lamar Johnson) and Sekani (TJ Wright) are able to socially thrive with no one seemingly aware — or even all that curious — of their home life.
On that latter front, in the wake of a sweet weekend reunion with childhood friend Khalil (Algee Smith, Detroit) and his shocking accidental death minutes later via the gun of a white police officer (Drew Starkey, Love, Simon), Starr’s troubles go from the already challenging day-to-day navigation of the world as an African-American to near suffocating levels.
Complications include frustrations of how the judicial system protects cops, feelings both soothed and magnified by her uncle Carlos (Common, doing his one-note thing) being on the force and the aid of crusading lawyer April Ofrah (a stoic Issa Rae).
New pressures also arise via local drug lord King (a suave, menacing Anthony Mackie) for Starr not to testify and potentially compromise his criminal enterprise, all of which affects her academic and social lives with her white acquaintances, whose reactions smartly convey decidedly modern disconnects in the fight for racial equality.
Simple, uninformed, and possibly accidentally racist comments by her school friend Hailey (Sabrina Carpenter) are the most obvious examples, though the film’s depiction of non-blacks’ trendy “support” of the Black Lives Matter movement for cheap, disposable gains connects on a more soul-crushing level.
Starr’s dialogue with self-professed “colorblind” Chris when she states that if he doesn’t see her blackness, he doesn’t see her is poignant in its own way, and the seamless, emotionally honest combination of these hyper-relevant concepts keep the film engrossing instead of teetering into easy didacticism.
The Hate U Give continues to pour on sharp drama as narrative strands intersect in mostly believable ways, and being a film about finding one’s voice, it may be forgiven for featuring a big speech in its climactic scene.
Even the multiple mentions of its title’s source and the discussion of its meaning amongst characters are handled fairly smoothly, and send viewers off with plenty of thoughtful concepts to plug into their own lives.
Grade: B-plus. Rated PG-13. Now playing at Biltmore Grande and Carolina Cinemark
(Photo: Twentieth Century Fox)