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The Hate U Give Movie Review

The Hate U Give (2018) movie poster The Hate U Give

Theatrical Release: October 5, 2018 / Running Time: 132 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: George Tillman Jr. / Writers: Angie Thomas (novel), Audrey Wells (screenplay)

Cast: Amandla Stenberg (Starr Carter), Regina Hall (Lisa Carter), Russell Hornsby (Maverick "Mav" Carter), Anthony Mackie (King), Issa Rae (April Ofrah), Common (Carlos), Algee Smith (Khalil), Sabrina Carpenter (Hailey), K.J. Apa (Chris), Dominique Fishback (Kenya), Lamar Johnson (Seven Carter), TJ Wright (Sekani Carter), Megan Lawless (Maya), Rhonda Johnson Dents (Miss Rosalie), Tony Vaughn (Mr. Lewis)

 

The revelation that "Thug Life", the phrase printed in 2Pac Shakur's iconic abdomen tattoo, is actually an acronym was probably the most interesting thing disclosed in last year's biopic All Eyez on Me. The same lesson could have also been gleamed earlier in the same year from Angie Thomas' novel.
Like the book on which it's based, The Hate U Give takes its title from the less profane first half of the expression that resonated with the late Shakur. Fox optioned Thomas' book before it was even published and now they've got one of the better mainstream movies of 2018 on their hands here.

The film centers on Starr Carter (Amandla Stenberg), the middle of three children living in the impoverished neighborhood of Garden Heights in an unnamed American city. Starr is the product of two loving parents. Her father Maverick (Russell Hornsby), a grocery store owner who still has some loose ties to a local gang, educates Starr and her two brothers about what to do if they are ever pulled over by police officers. Starr's mother Lisa (Regina Hall) believes strongly in getting her daughter a proper education, so teenaged Starr and her older half-brother Seven (Lamar Johnson) attend Williamson Prep, whose enrollment is largely affluent white kids.

The distance between her home and school gives Starr something of a split personality. She's afraid of her classmates finding out where she lives, but she still has a number of friends and even a boyfriend in Chris (KJ Apa), an aspiring DJ who shares her love of retro Jordans.

After a party in her neighborhood breaks up amidst a squabble and gunfire, Starr leaves with Khalil (Algee Smith), a childhood friend she is pretty in awe of. They get pulled over by a cop and, well, let's just say it's good that Maverick taught her how to behave in such situations. The harrowing incident that ensues traumatizes Starr, who is disgusted by the questioning she receives at the police station afterwards.

The Carter family (Russell Hornsby, Regina Hall, and Amandla Stenberg) gets information but not reassurances from Uncle Carlos (Common).

Starr's status as prime witness puts her in a difficult position.
On the one hand, she wants justice carried out for her lifelong friend. On the other hand, if she testifies to what she knows about Khalil and his dealings with her friend's father, feared drug dealer King (Anthony Mackie), she puts her family at risk. And testifying at all would reveal to her peers at school the closely-guarded secret that her family lives in the ghetto.

It appears to be a lose-lose situation for Starr and her family, which soon finds itself threatened by King's people while being undermined by police who are conducting a investigation and a grand jury probe into the actions of the traffic officer who stopped Khalil and her.

So much of young adult literature tapped for film treatment in recent years falls under the blanket of dystopian fantasy, thanks to the success of The Hunger Games (whose first adaptation provided Stenberg's big break as Rue). It's refreshing then to encounter this, something which is far more realistic and relevant to young people's lives. In fact, it's relevant to all people's lives as it tackles in a timely and thoughtful fashion issues of race, from police targeting black citizens with racial profiling to simply how white and black people interpret the same events through different perspectives.

These are sensitive subjects to explore particularly as part of something bigger that is supposed to engage as a piece of apolitical storytelling. Happily, The Hate U Give does a pretty great job of both telling its story and dissecting its touchy issues. How it will play years from now remains to be seen; Paul Haggis' Crash tackled race relations head on and won the Best Picture Oscar for 2005 and now it is regularly cited as one of the worst winners of that award for its treatments. In the moment, THUG is thought-provoking cinema that provides perspectives and considers things that really need to change.

Inevitably, in turning a 464-page book into a 132-minute film, certain things have to be condensed and simplified. One presumes that Thomas' text had more shades of gray. The film version tries not to paint characters as simply racist and Starr's uncle Carlos (Common) even gets to supply the police point of view in a monologue that considers an angle otherwise largely disregarded here. While it flirts with being overdramatic in its jaw-dropping climax, the film succeeds at sparking conversation and thought. It seems to lean more heavily on calls to community activism than on Starr's forged identity, but in the age of "Black Lives Matter" that seems like a sensible approach.

Starr Carter (Amandla Stenberg) feels a pull towards activism in the wake of her friend's death in "The Hate U Give."

It was upsetting to see some of the emotions that feature in the film spill over to my viewing where a security guard repeatedly having to enforce the standard no-cell phone use policy of advance screenings wound up at the center of loud, heated, racially-charged arguments that drowned out several minutes in the middle of the film. The discomforting incident which thankfully defused organically perhaps serves as a lesson that discord is easy and harmony is hard, which is one of the points to take away from the movie.

In a year that has been all about giving voice to groups historically underrepresented in Hollywood cinema, from Crazy Rich Asians to Love, Simon and Boy Erased, The Hate U Give stands out as something that's fascinating without even considering that angle. While many are still singing the praises of the heroics of Black Panther and BlacKkKlansman, those were, respectively, Marvel escapism and a film set forty years in the past. Director George Tillman Jr. and screenwriter Audrey Wells, who sadly passed away on the eve of the film's limited opening, don't have to stretch to make the issues here relevant and universal. It's all right there in Thomas' of-the-moment novel, whose spirit seemingly does not get lost in adaptation.

Unfortunately, as YA fare, this is a much longer shot at earning any awards recognition. Look at how The Hunger Games and Harry Potter were marginalized on a yearly basis. And if Wells' intelligent screenplay garners posthumous recognition, as it probably should, you'd get a repeat of the backlash that comes from one white person being recognized from the achievements of a predominantly black production (like Sylvester Stallone in Creed). Frankly, while the cast is widely commendable here, the biggest standout is Hornsby of Fences and the upcoming Creed II, who shines brightly as Starr's father both dramatically and comedically.

Taking an altogether different strategy than their last Stenberg-headlined YA adaptation (the dreadful blink and miss The Darkest Minds), Fox helped build interest in major markets over last weekend and the one before and have now expanded this to 2,300 locations nationwide.

Related Reviews:
Now in Theaters: A Star Is Born Beautiful Boy First Man BlacKkKlansman Smallfoot White Boy Rick
Amandla Stenberg: The Darkest Minds The Hunger Games | Russell Hornsby: Fences
Regina Hall: People Places Things Think Lik a Man About Last Night Barbershop: The Next Cut
Anthony Mackie: Pain & Gain Captain America: The Winter Soldier | Common: Selma
Directed by George Tillman Jr.: Faster | Written by Audrey Wells: Shall We Dance? (2004) The Game Plan
All Eyez on Me Moonlight Creed

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Reviewed October 23, 2018.



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