Starring: Amandla Stenberg, Algee Smith, Regina Hall
Directed by: George Tillman Jr. (“Notorious”)
Written by: Audrey Wells (“Shall We Dance”)
The names of the countless unarmed black men and boys whose lives have ended at the hands of white police officers in the name of law enforcement have reverberated across the nation in recent years. Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Philando Castile, Freddie Grey, Alton Sterling, Walter Scott and many others — the list is a frightening reminder of the epidemic in this country that, in many cases, points back to a systematic breakdown in race relations.
Today, it is an issue that has demanded more headlines since a number of these heartbreaking incidents have been captured on video and disseminated through social media, and because people like Colin Kaepernick are taking a knee (and making a stand) against social injustice. Stories like these are finding new platforms with the help of social media and Hollywood.
Although not based on any of the aforementioned black men who were killed by police, “The Hate U Give” is one of the very few films in the last five years that have confronted the subject directly and with the kind of intense emotion that will leave a lasting impression. In 2013, “Fruitvale Station” — with a compassionate script and direction by Ryan Coogler (“Black Panther”) — told the true story of 22-year-old unarmed black man Oscar Grant, who was shot dead by an Oakland police officer four years prior. Another film on the topic, “Monsters and Men,” will hopefully do the same later this year.
Adapted from author Angie Thomas’ novel of the same name, “The Hate U Give” is a gut-wrenching cinematic wake-up call to an American society pleading with its citizens to stop the cycle of violence that has spread across generations. Taking the lead as the narrative’s reluctant social-justice warrior is Starr Carter (Amandla Stenberg in a dramatic breakout role), a black teenager who witnesses the death of her childhood friend Khalil (Algee Smith) by a police officer during a routine traffic stop.
Starr’s character arc and what Stenberg is able to do with it is noteworthy as we watch her evolve from a terrified high school student trying to understand who she is (her private school personality isn’t the same one she conveys at home) to a willing participant who slowly finds her voice through the pain, fear and indignation she has experienced her entire life.
While it would have been more constructive for the script to have given the cop characters a nuanced purpose (they’re reduced to one-dimensional villains), “The Hate U Give” isn’t apologizing for any of its choices. Thomas’ frustration radiates off the page and screen, and Starr is the ideal storyteller for that outrage. “The Hate U Give” is a primal scream.