The Hate U Give tackles serious issues of racism and police violence with unflinching honesty and a stunning lead performance by Amandla Stenberg.
Angie Thomas' The Hate U Give joins the list of 2018 YA adaptations, alongside the likes of romances Love, Simon and To All The Boys I've Loved Before and dystopian sci-fi The Darkest Minds. Unlike those movies, though, The Hate U Give mixes a coming-of-age story typical of the young adult book genre with topics relevant to young black people in modern America; namely, racism (in all its forms) and police brutality. The movie premiered at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival in early September ahead of its limited release in early October and a wide release later in the month. The Hate U Give tackles serious issues of racism and police violence with unflinching honesty and a stunning lead performance by Amandla Stenberg.
The Hate U Give follows young Starr Carter (Stenberg), who's caught between her home of Garden Heights, a poor, mostly black neighborhood where she lives with her family - Starr's mother Lisa (Regina Hall), father Maverick (Russell Hornsby), half-brother Seven (Lamar Johnson) and little brother Sekani (TJ Wright) - and the rich, mostly white area where she attends private school. The disconnect between Starr's worlds, and the versions of herself she presents in each world, is forever changed when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood friend Khalil Harris (Algee Smith) at the hands of a white police officer. While dealing with her grief, Starr must also navigate the politics of speaking out or staying silent as the witness of the crime.
While Lisa wants to keep Starr safe, which in Garden Heights means staying silent about the gang run by King (Anthony Mackie), Maverick encourages Starr to use her voice and shine a light on what happened to Khalil - thereby shining a light on the plague of police brutality against black people across the country. Meanwhile, Starr tries to find a balance between speaking the truth and protecting herself - both in Garden Heights and at her private school. At school, Starr must deal with the actions of her white friends, Haley (Sabrina Carpenter) and Maya (Megan Lawless), as well as her boyfriend Chris (K.J. Apa). With the help of her uncle Carlos (Common) and the activist April Ofrah (Issa Rae), Starr works to reconcile the violence she witnessed when Khalil was murdered with her place in her neighborhood and the country. At the end of the day, Starr will need to find her voice to stand up for Khalil.
Adapted from Thomas' novel of the same name, which was published in 2017 and received a number of accolades including the Coretta Scott King Award, The Hate U Give was directed by George Tillman Jr. (Faster, Notorious) from a script by Audrey Wells (A Dog's Purpose, Under the Tuscan Sun). In terms of it being an adaptation, The Hate U Give sticks close to the source material, translating much of Thomas' novel to the big screen for one of the most literal adaptations in recent years. Considering how well written and thoughtfully crafted the book was, Tillman and Wells' work honors Thomas' debut. The director and screenwriter do make some changes, of course (as is always the case with adaptations), but those alterations work to emphasize the points Thomas made in the book. Further, The Hate U Give rarely feels like an adaptation, which is to say it doesn't suffer from pacing problems that can arise in the adaptation process. The only real hint the movie is adapted from a novel is the voiceovers from Starr, a remnant of the story told in first-person being translated to a visual medium. Altogether, The Hate U Give works as both an adaptation and a movie on its own.
Still, The Hate U Give is very much adapted from a novel aimed at teens and young adults, meaning the movie also blends Starr's grief and struggle to speak out about Khalil with typical high school story beats - like prom and Starr bringing her boyfriend home to meet her father. However, it's all filtered through Starr's lens, meaning it's all filtered through the lens of a young black women. The result is a balance of brutality and mundane. The Hate U Give never shies away from depicting the violence in Starr's life, nor the emotional impact it has on her and her family. In fact, perhaps the only times in which the movie does pull its punches is in portraying the covert and overt racism of its white characters. Further, an on-the-nose moment in the film's climactic moments, in which the themes of the film are explicitly touched upon and brought to a resolution, show the movie went to great lengths to appeal to all audiences and that all audiences will understand its message. It's a commendable effort by Tillman and Wells, if a little ham-fisted, that will surely make The Hate U Give that much more impactful to a wider audience.
What truly makes The Hate U Give work is the performance of Stenberg, who carries much of the film's drama and levity on her shoulders. Stenberg has made a name for herself in Hollywood almost exclusively through YA adaptations - breaking out in The Hunger Games, then starring in Everything, Everything as well as The Darkest Minds. She returns for another role in a YA adaptation and proves her exceptional talent in bringing the character of Starr to life. But, of course, Stenberg is also surrounded by an all-star cast, with both Hall and Hornsby (the latter especially) shining as Starr's parents. Smith, Johnson, Wright, Mackie and Common fill out Starr's world with memorable turns, though they're given much less to do. Apa also seamlessly provides depth to Starr's universe, a feat considering the Riverdale star joined The Hate U Give for reshoots after the actor who originally played Chris was fired from the project. Still, The Hate U Give is truly Stenberg's starring vehicle, and she carries that weight with grace.
Ultimately, The Hate U Give is a stunningly powerful film about the impact of police violence and racism on the black youth of America, as showcased through the eyes of Stenberg's Starr Carter. The brutality and the truth in the movie's harsher moments may be difficult for some viewers, especially those who share many of the experiences of Starr or her family members, but the unflinching honesty of The Hate U Give assures the movie is never exploitative. To be sure, The Hate U Give has an important message to impart on audiences, but that message is woven into an excellently crafted, written and filmed movie. As a result, The Hate U Give is a fantastic viewing experience for fans of Thomas' novel, those interested in the issues it tackles, and the general moviegoing audience. Though it's one of many YA adaptations to hit theaters this year, The Hate U Give has the potential to be a massive hit with casual audiences and make a serious stand during the upcoming awards season.
The Hate U Give is now playing in select U.S. theaters. It will expand to additional markets on October 12, before going wide on October 19. It runs 133 minutes and is rated PG-13 for mature thematic elements, some violent content, drug material and language.
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- The Hate U Give (2018) release date: Oct 19, 2018