Sunday 25 August 2019

Movie Review: The Hate U Give (2018)

A Black Lives Matter drama, The Hate U Give delves into the virulent issues and racial schisms tearing away at the American social fabric.

16 year old Starr Carter (Amandla Stenberg) lives with her family in the rough and underprivileged black neighbourhood of Garden Heights, which is awash in drugs distributed by the network of crime lord King (Anthony Mackie). Her father Maverick (Russell Hornsby) is a convenience store owner and proud of his black heritage. He previously served prison time for drug dealing but extricated himself from the crime world by not snitching on King.

At the insistence of her mother Lisa (Regina Hall), Starr and her two brothers attend the predominantly white Williamson private school. In this milieu Starr does her best to blend in and hide her neighbourhood roots, including from her school besties Hailey and Maya and boyfriend Chris (K.J. Apa). But when she witnesses a brutal police shooting involving her friend from childhood Khalil (Algee Smith), Starr finds it increasingly difficult to live in two worlds at once.

With the prevalence of seemingly unprovoked police shootings of black men plaguing the nation, The Hate U Give dives into the deep end of the churning pool and asks questions about causes, accountability, and the search for solutions. But this is also an adaptation of a 2017 Young Adult book by Angie Thomas, and so while the film registers an often fearsome impact, it does suffer from an overload of dramatic events and a relatively pat ending inconsistent with the most of what preceded it.

Directed by George Tillman Jr. from an Audrey Wells script, The Hate U Give makes for a suitable if purely fictional companion piece to 2013's Fruitvale Station. By taking the perspective of a young woman trying to fit into two different realities located in adjacent neighbourhoods but an entire world apart, Tillman is able to tease out the contradictory forces, moral conundrums and crosscurrents at play in one community and throughout the country.

Compelling dilemmas abound. Starr's own parents cannot agree whether to stay in or leave Garden Heights. The white students at Williamson want to support the Black Lives Matter movement, but through Starr's eyes the activism of her white privileged classmates smacks of cause-of-the-week opportunism to cut classes. Her friendships are tested when naive moral equivalencies are drawn between the black and white experience.

And most fundamentally, Starr can testify against the police officer involved in the shooting, but this will unveil her two-identity existence and endanger her family by incurring the wrath of drug lord King, who employed the victim Khalil as a street-level drug dealer.

While Starr and her family are subjected to a few too many tense moments during the course of the film, Amandla Stenberg rides out the drama with admirable subtlety. Her performance is filled with tender perception and an awakening to the worst the world has to offer. As ever more difficult options open up to Starr, Stenberg creates the time and space for her character to genuinely struggle with what it means to lose the comfort of dual identity but find a voice.

With the twin evils of drugs and racism presenting a formidable continuum of violence, The Hate U Give Little Infants F**ks Everybody (Thug Life) is the film's formidable theme (inspired by Tupac Shakur). The circle of life can easily be perverted into the circle of hate, and the Starrs have to shine for any progress to be made.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.


  1. Our views are pretty similar on this. I really enjoyed it, save for that too neat ending. I appreciate that before that point, the movie is not afraid to ask tough questions. Stenberg was really good in the lead, but Russell Hornsby was flat out amazing. Great review!

    1. Thanks, and I agree about Hornsby, his was also a terrific performance.


We welcome reader comments about this post.