Directed by: George Tillman Jr.
Written by: Audrey Wells
Starring: Amandla Stenberg, Regina Hall, Russell Hornsby, K.J. Apa, Common, Anthony Mackie
Maintaining a singular identity in all spaces comes as a privilege for those who never have to interchangeably switch who they are depending on their surroundings. This can occur on a smaller scale with anyone as they act differently in front of their parents as they may do with their friends. However, individuals from marginalized identities navigating through spaces where they heavily lie in the minority must do this for their own sanity, and serves as one of the many hard-hitting struggles occurring in The Hate U Give. An important and timely feature everyone should process.
Starr (Amandla Stenberg) lives in a predominantly Black neighborhood along with her family as well as attending a heavily predominantly white Catholic school. She faces the struggle of hiding her identity and not being her true self in both spheres. One night following attendance at a party, she witnesses a horrifying event that will change her perspectives and trajectory in life.
It’s funny to think of how you could see your life as a unique singular experience and then have feature films lay out facets that almost mirror your life. At several moments, I felt this when watching The Hate U Give. Obviously, not every facet of the film, but the personable nature of this feature provides someone who has lived similarly life circumstances to Starr to really connect with the material. As someone who also attended a Catholic school in order to avoid a local high school with a negative reputation, so much of Starr’s journey resonated with me and it feels incredibly accurate in its depiction.
Students of color deal with code-switching all of the time and it gets quite to an annoying phase where it feels like living two lives. These moments almost felt too real with its depiction because they simply nail it here. Being your true self in white spaces could be seen as “ghetto” and then back home, acting the way you act like in school gives the appearance that you’re above others. A mix of opportunity for a better education but at the cost of socially alienating not only the student but also the other community members without the means to also aspire for something a bit better and safer.
There’s a distinct richness to The Hate U Give where it has plenty going on but it never feels distracted or aimless with its execution. The film has a direct message, but the issues Starr encounters feel incredibly multifaceted and complex, as it should be when it deals with the issues surrounding identity mixed with the hormones of being a teenager. Through Starr’s character development, the narrative goes through each of these struggles, not in an exploitative manner but in a thoughtful approach due to the topics it takes on.
In some moments the writing can be a bit on the nose with what it wants to communicate, but much like some of Spike Lee’s work, talking about topics like this sometimes need to be yelled out to the audience. The issue of police brutality has its obvious complications, but the more internal battles Starr must encounter can slip by with its subtlety where spelling it all out serves not as discrediting the intelligence of audience members but rather a confirmation everyone’s on the same page. In a sense it can serve as an educational experience for those who never have to think about the dangers of being a Black American in this country and what it means to wear a skin color deemed dangerous by society. There are people who still believe systemic racism does not exist so yes, sometimes things need to be spilled out.
Several moments throughout this feature really hit the feels and only further accentuate the strong filmmaking put on display by George Tillman Jr. One particular scene on the front lawn of the Starr’s house truly nails the heart of the film right on the head. Showing the fear and sadness taken on by both parents and children when dealing with their identity and the police. An exercise that should not exist, yet becomes something these young folks need ingrained in their minds each day they step out of the house. A scene nearly taking my breath away from its importance both to the real world but also the emotional development of these characters in relation to society and the family. Incredible filmmaking there and in so many other scenes where an emotionally earned gut punch hits you hard with conviction and purpose to push forward the themes of this motion picture.
On top of the strong filmmaking on display, the performances were out of this world, especially from Amandla Stenberg, and Russell Hornsby portraying her father, Maverick. The dynamic these two actors share is absolutely dynamite as you can see Hornsby carrying the pain of his character as he tries to make amends for his past along with pushing his family forward. His shining moment comes during the lawn scene mentioned before and my goodness he just created magic there. A level of sternness and care wrapped into one heartwrenching scene. Stenberg as well carries the film through her work in both capturing the innocence of her character and the emotional awakening she must undergo not only for her own development, but also for the betterment of her community. Tremendous work by this cast.
The Hate U Give provides so much to parse through in its story and does so with a beautiful level of care and bluntness. It gets right into the heart of Starr’s journey and the battles she must take on everyday just to feel like a normal person. Different masks and attitudes in opposing locations and the inciting event of this feature just kicks everything up a few notches. The film carries so much accuracy of the struggle someone like Starr encounters from the microaggressions, to the throwaways, and the fear of being pulled over by a police officer could result in the loss of life. A spectacularly well-made and timely feature that should be required viewing for all.