The Hate U Give is an adaptation of Angie Thomas’s bestseller by the same name (released in February 2017). Starr Carter, a sixteen-year-old gifted student, has to adeptly maneuver between two worlds — her poor, mostly black neighborhood and a wealthy, mostly white prep school. Facing pressure from all sides, Starr must find her voice and decide to stand up for what’s right.
Beautiful newcomer, Amandla Stenberg, is perfectly cast as the wounded, courageous high school student who attends an elite white private school because her mother Lisa (a superb Regina Hall) insists she has a bright future, one that most of their neighborhood’s teen residents will not have.
Shedding her hoodie, swallowing any aggression that might make her seem “ghetto,” and eradicating black slang, Starr endures her white peers, including boyfriend Chris (“Riverdale” star K J Apa) and friend Kayleigh (Sabrina Carpenter) who have appropriated what they think is “cool” from black youth. Painful tolerance is evident on Starr’s face. “If you don’t see my blackness, you don’t see me,” Starr tells Chris in response to his clueless-white-boy pride in “not seeing color.” Yet Starr also has to straddle differing opinions of her blackness and suspicions about her elitist classmates.
Starr’s life is carefully compartmentalized. Yet it seems she can only truly relax around her loving family. In a deeply moving and unforgettable scene, Maverick, her father (sympathetically played by Russell Hornsby), is sitting at the dining room table giving his elementary school-age son a lesson on how to survive a traffic stop by a white cop. Maverick insists that his young son copy how he should place his hands on the dashboard, head down, avoiding eye contact. The little boy has no comprehension why his father’s doing this.
After a raucous and typical teenage party where Starr reconnects with her childhood playmate and crush Khalil (Algee Smith), the story becomes tragic. Starr will become the only witness, at first reluctantly, to a night of infamy.
The Hate U Give offers a fascinating portrayal of the inspiration and moral courage of youth, especially black youth, who struggle to understand and survive the racism and brutality they encounter from infancy. Solidarity against the enemy should not have to mean harboring and hating the enemy within. The lessons to be learned from The Hate U Give and the power of understanding the self-destructive force of hate are nuanced, not dogmatic.
The Hate U Give deserves wide circulation. Enraging, heartbreaking, and ultimately deeply moving, none of the young people should ever have been asked to make these impossible choices. Although the ending is rather weak, the true ending IMHO is when Starr finds her voice. The Hate U Give’s impact lies in using film to demand concrete social change.
Note: Available on Netflix as a DVD and soon available on HBO.