Review: The Hate U Give

Amandla Stenberg in The Hate U Give

The Hate U Give features Amandla Stenberg in an Oscar-worthy performance as Starr Carter, a 16 year old girl who navigates life between her Black community at home and the white high performance school she attends. This review contains spoilers.

This is a powerful, impactful film with a message about Black Lives Matter, police brutality, and gun violence that everyone should make an effort to see.

The first scene in the film is the Carter family at home when 9 year old Starr and her brother Seven, played as a teen by Lamar Johnson, were getting “the talk.” Starr’s father, Mav (Russell Hornsby), explained to his young children what to do when they were approached by the police. Put your hands in plain sight. Don’t move. Do what you’re told.

Looking on during “the talk” is Starr’s mother Lisa (Regina Hall). She holds baby Sekani on her lap. Later, at nine years old, Sekani is played by TJ Wright.

Jump forward to Starr in high school. The voiceovers in the film were generally well done. In the beginning as we see Starr at school and at home, she explains in a voiceover how difficult it is switching from her school self to her home self and keeping the two identities straight.

Starr has a white boyfriend named Chris (K.J. Apa). Her white friend Hailey (Sabrina Carpenter) is proven later to be a racist in the way many white people who think they aren’t racist are shown to be. She also has a friend named Maya (Megan Lawless) who was much more developed in the book.

I read the novel The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas just two days before I saw the film. The book was fresh in my mind. Among several changes from book to film, the boyfriend Chris lost quite a lot. He had more depth and was a better ally for Starr in the book. In the film he even says, “I don’t see color,” which was a cringe worthy statement from him designed to give Starr the chance to educate him. There were several rather heavy-handed changes from book to film meant to bring home a message that veered slightly from the message I got from the book.

The title The Hate You Give comes from the phrase THUG LIFE from rapper Tupac. It is an acronym for “The Hate U Give Little Infants Fucks Everybody.” The ending of the film was changed slightly to bring home that message over the book’s message, which I read as a young girl learning what the world is like and finding her purpose in it.

When Starr was nine, her best friend was killed in front of her as they played on the sidewalk. It was a drive by shooting, part of the gang culture around her. The gang in her community was run by King (Anthony Mackie). Starr’s father, Mav, had been in the gang. He served 3 years in prison for King and was released from the gang. Now, Starr’s father owned a grocery store.

Amandla Stenberg and Algee Smith in The Hate You Give
Friends at a party

As a teen, Starr goes to a party. She visits with her other childhood best friend Khalil (Algee Smith). When shots are fired at the party, they flee in Khalil’s car. A white cop pulls them over. Starr remembers her father’s talk. She puts her hands on the dashboard and tells Khalil to do the same. The cop drags Khalil out of the car. Khalil moves when he was told not to. The cop shoots him.

Now Starr is a witness to a police shooting. She has PTSD and problems coping. Khalil is painted as a drug dealer by the press. King and his gang want her to be silent about what she saw. Her parents want her to be silent to protect herself. She was silent at age nine when she saw who shot her friend on the sidewalk.

A lawyer and activist named April Ofrah (Issa Rae) arrives and wants Starr to give TV interviews and testify before a grand jury.

Russell Hornsby, Regina Hall, Amandla Stenberg and Common in The Hate U Give
Just keep them safe!

To keep their kids safe, the Carters take them to Lisa’s brother Carlos’ (Common) house. Starr’s Uncle Carlos is a cop. He lives in a “better” neighborhood. One of the most significant changes from book to film involved a speech Carlos gave to Starr. When he began, I thought it was going to be a Blue Lives Matter speech to make the film more balanced. But no, it ended up showing how ingrained the fear of Black skin is in the police, even African American cops like Carlos.

Starr’s growth process is interesting in the second half of the film. She comes to better understand the racism she faces. She decides to go public as the witness and testify. When the grand jury fails to indict the cop, a riot breaks out.

Amandla Stenberg in The Hate U Give
Hands Up. Don’t Shoot.

Starr takes a bullhorn from April Ofrah during the riot and talks to the crowd. She grabs a tear gas canister and throws it back at the police. That’s captured on television, along with her public statement that King is the gang leader.

Starr finds her voice, both literally and metaphorically. In the book, I felt she would become a voice for her community like the book’s author Angie Thomas, or like Tarana Burke or Bree Newsome or Kamala Harris. Finishing up Starr’s story with this strong message about Black women and power was changed in the film.

Instead, the film emphasized the message The Hate U Give Little Infants Fucks Everybody. This is done by putting a gun in little eight or nine year old Sekani’s hands in the final scenes.

Both the book and the film are important and powerful. I urge you to read the book, or go to the movie, or do both.

Making a sympathetic 16 year-old girl lead the audience through the perils of racism is brilliant. The audience identifies with Starr. Her story is the kind of story that can change hearts and minds. Amandla Stenberg’s performance is magnificent. She’s proven herself a giant talent in this film. I fell in love with her and cried over her when she was Rue in The Hunger Games. Now she’s all grown up and she’s fantastic.

The Hate U Give was directed by George Tillman Jr. with a screenplay by Audrey Wells.

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