“The Hate U Give”, which is based on the novel of the same name by Angie Thomas, handles a timely subject with earnest care and compassion. Through the intimate human story of a young girl who becomes a lot more active after witnessing a terrible incident not so far from many recent tragic cases of police shooting in US, the movie urges us to reflect more on its social/political issues, and it makes its points clearly and strongly via a number of powerful moments to remember.
During the early part of the movie, we get to know about the complex daily life of Starr Carter (Amandla Stenberg), a 16-year-old African American girl who has managed to balance herself well between two different worlds. Thanks to her caring parents Maverick (Russell Hornsby) and Lisa (Regina Hall), she and her two siblings have attended a prestigious school outside their poor African American neighborhood, and she tells us how it is often difficult for her to maintain her appearance in her school which is full of affluent Caucasian kids. For avoiding any unnecessary attention, she should not show her racial identity too much in front of others in the school, and there is an ironic moment when she dryly observes how casually many of her Caucasian schoolmates including her boyfriend Chris (K. J. Apa) appropriate African American culture and slangs without being aware of their racial privilege,
In her neighborhood, Starr can be more comfortable with being herself, but she also knows too well how difficult and dangerous it is to live there. Her neighborhood has been constantly riddled with drug crimes for many years, and there is always the danger of getting shot by the police just because of being an African American. During the opening scene, her father, who once lived the life of a criminal but then became a different man after several years in prison, firmly emphasizes the importance of looking non-threatening in front of police officers, and Starr and her two siblings take their father’s lesson to heart as demanded.
During one evening, Starr happens to go to a party held in her neighborhood, and she comes across Khalil (Algee Smith), an old childhood friend who used to hang around with her during their childhood years. When the party is later disrupted by a sudden shooting, they hurriedly leave the scene just like many others, and they soon come to spend some time together as Khalil is taking her to her home by his car, but then they are stopped by a police officer. As taught by her father, Starr tries to look non-threatening as much as possible, but Khalil unfortunately comes to look aggressive to the police officer, and he eventually gets killed when the police officer mistakes something harmless for a gun.
Quite devastated by what has just happened right in front of her eyes, Starr is subsequently taken to a local police station. She soon finds herself questioned by a couple of detectives, and they seem to be more interested in the criminal activities of Khalil, who has worked for a local drug gang organization led by a guy named King (Anthony Mackie). Thanks to her police officer uncle Carlos (Common), she quickly returns to her home along with her mother, but she is still haunted by what she witnessed, and she is also notified that she will have to testify in front of the grand jury, who will decide whether the case should proceed to trial or not.
As watching the growing civil protest against the case, Starr comes to feel the need to speak up for herself, but she is not so sure about whether she can do it. In her school, many students talk a lot about the case, but she does not dare to reveal her situation even to Chris, who is naturally baffled as she becomes rather estranged from him. In addition, she and her family receive a threat from King because she may talk about Khalil’s criminal association with him, and that leads to a conflict between Lisa and Maverick, who is determined to do anything for protecting his family from a man for whom he once worked.
While it is a little too blatant and contrived at times, the adapted screenplay by Audrey Wells, who died from cancer shortly before the movie was released in last October, sticks to its sincere and honest storytelling approach, and the movie serves us several emotionally resonating scenes under the good direction of director George Tillman Jr., who previously directed “Soul Food” (1997), “Men of Honor” (2000), and “Notorious” (2009). While the scenes involved with Khalil’s funeral are handled with sad poignancy, a crucial conversation scene between Starr and her boyfriend is unexpectedly touching as he shows her more understanding and compassion than expected, and we later get a humorously awkward moment when she formally introduces him to her family.
It surely helps that the movie is full of good performers who enliven their characters via their considerable presence and talent. While Amandla Stenberg, who previously played a minor supporting role in “The Hunger Games” (2012), ably holds the center, Regina Hall and Russell Hornsby are terrific in their respective roles, and the other notable supporting performers including Algee Smith, Anthony Mackie, K. J. Apa, and Common are also solid in their supporting parts.
On the whole, “The Hate U Give”, whose title is derived from legendary rapper Tupak Shakur’s “THUG LIFE” concept (It is the acronym for “The Hate U Give Little Infants F*cks Everybody”, by the way), is an engaging coming-of-age drama about race and social injustice, and it deserves to be mentioned along with other interesting racial drama movies of this year such as “Monsters and Men” (2018) and “Blindspotting” (2018). While I noticed its weak spots including the finale which is a little too neat, it engaged and touched me enough during my viewing, and I think that is more than enough for recommendation.