Movie Review – The Hate U Give
This film is adapted from a best-selling young-adult novel by Angie Thomas. It’s a book about the Black Lives Matter movement that focuses on a teenage, African-American girl who witnesses a police officer shoot and kill a fellow African-American boy. The 2009 police shooting of Oscar Grant in Oakland, California, inspired Thomas. Her novel wasn’t published until 2017. From 2009 to 2017, the Black Lives Matter movement has racked up a lot of cases and examples. However, the movement didn’t officially start until 2013, following the shooting of Trayvon Martin. Since then, we’ve seen several TV shows and films comment on the Black Lives Matter movement and be examples in and of themselves.
The case that inspired Thomas had a film made about it. Oscar Grant’s death was depicted in Fruitvale Station (2013), which isn’t technically a Black Lives Matter film, but it is an example before the movement started of how there has always been tension, brutality, and even death between the police and unarmed black men. That 2013 film, however, is just one of several films, going back for decades, that demonstrate what the Black Lives Matter movement has been arguing. Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing (1989) was one such example, prior to the Black Lives Matter movement. It’s simply now that police shooting black men is being underlined in such a profound way.
Since the Black Lives Matter movement started, an overwhelming amount of media involving African-Americans have dealt with this issue. TV shows like Scandal and Black-ish have done so. We’ve even seen it in Oscar-winning films like Selma (2014) or blockbuster movies like Straight Outta Compton (2015). This year, however, there seems to have been an explosion of media dealing with the Black Lives Matter issue.
Blindspotting and Monsters and Men are the two main examples this year that deal with the issue of unarmed black men shot by police directly. Other films like Superfly and BlacKkKlansman deal with the issue indirectly. The future film Green Book touches upon the issue and the unreleased Crime + Punishment documentary by Stephen Maing also tangentially explores the issue. TV shows like the Emmy-winning Seven Seconds, as well as Black Lightning and the new series All American have also addressed the issue at hand. Now, there’s this film. All of these films and TV shows, even going back to 2013, normally deal with the issue through the perspective of a man. The exception is Seven Seconds, which featured Regina King as a mom facing the loss of her son.
Amandla Stenberg (The Hunger Games and Everthing, Everything) plays Starr Carter, a 16-year-old black girl living in a predominantly African-American neighborhood, known as Garden Heights. However, Starr’s mom drives her everyday to Williamson Prep, which is a private school in a predominantly white neighborhood, a wealthy, white neighborhood. When she’s at Williamson, Starr behaves a certain way, a way that might come across as “acting white.” It’s only odd because when Starr is in Garden Heights, she behaves a different way, a way that might be described as “acting ghetto,” or a way that might be stereotypically black.
It’s called code-switching and it’s not necessarily problematic. Acting two different ways with two different groups of people is something that most people do. It’s not necessarily a distinction that runs along racial lines, as it is here. Some people act one way around their family and another way around friends. They might curse in front of their friends and not around their family, especially their parents. Things become troublesome when a person has these dual identities, as it were, because the person thinks that “acting ghetto” or “acting black” will hurt them in social, political or economic circles, which is what Starr faces.
Code-switching is also something that’s associated with minorities like black people. When white people do it, especially along racial lines, it could be considered cultural appropriation. It’s particularly egregious here because Starr’s friends don’t toggle between two different neighborhoods. They only exist in the white neighborhood, so there’s no need for them to code-switch, other than the kids at Williamson Prep think it’s cool. But they do so while being ignorant of the everyday problems that those that need to code-switch have to face in order to survive.
KJ Apa (Riverdale) co-stars as Chris, the white boyfriend of Starr. He’s one of those aforementioned preppy guys who acts black but who is too ignorant or privileged to realize why it’s offensive or fake. He’s also emblematic of the fact that not every white person is bad or racist, simply for being ignorant. Chris genuinely loves Starr and she genuinely loves him, and their relationship is proof that conversations where black people can share their experiences and feelings and white people listen and acknowledge those feelings are a pathway to which we should all strive.
The thrust of the film, however, is about a police shooting of an unarmed black teenager whom Starr knows. In fact, Starr witnesses the shooting herself. As with Kelvin Harrison Jr’s character in Monsters and Men, the incident is a bit of a wake-call to activism. It’s also a pivot point for what kind of person that Starr wants to be, while also reckoning with the kind of person she has been.
Russell Hornsby (Fences and Grimm) also stars as Maverick Carter, Starr’s father. He’s an ex-gang member who has reformed and now runs a grocery store in Garden Heights. He’s married to a beautiful woman and nurse named Lisa, played by Regina Hall (Girls Trip and Think Like a Man). Maverick seems like he was raised to believe in the Black Panther Party, making him have a natural distrust of the police force, but, as the film opens, he gives what’s referred to as “the talk” to his children about what to do when encountering the police in order to avoid getting shot and killed.
The movie might even suggest that when the unarmed black teen is shot, it’s because he didn’t do what Maverick told Starr to do. This might come across as victim-blaming. Hornsby was also in the Emmy-winning series Seven Seconds, which makes it clear that a young black man can die at the hands of the police due to no actions of his own. This movie might throw that idea out the window.
The rapper-actor Common also co-stars here as Carlos, Starr’s uncle, but it wasn’t clear if he was Maverick’s brother or Lisa’s brother. However, Carlos is a police officer. It’s interesting because prior to this year, Common has been in several films that have commented on Black Lives Matter, including Selma (2014) and Barbershop: The Next Cut (2016). But in each of those films, he’s been on the other side. Here, he’s on the side of the police. Like with John David Washington’s character in Monsters and Men, Carlos has to argue for the police and why shooting an unarmed black kid might not be what Starr or anyone else thinks it is. Yet, there is acknowledgment of the racial disparity, which again favors white people over black people, but it’s definitely through Carlos that we get the police perspective.
Anthony Mackie (Captain America: The Winter Soldier and The Hurt Locker) also co-stars as King, the head of a drug gang called the Lords. He’s the father to Starr’s best friend, Kenya, played by Dominique Fishback. Kenya is also the half-sister to Seven Carter, played by Lamar Johnson. Seven is half-brother to Starr. Basically, King and Maverick had children with the same woman. Maverick cheated on Lisa with the same woman who slept with King whose presence in this story is to provide a glimpse into the family dysfunction and gang violence that certain black communities have to face. Unfortunately, his presence draws focus from the story at hand, much in the way those who oppose Black Lives Matter always bring up the Chicago gang violence.
Issa Rae (Insecure) plays April Ofrah, the lawyer who addresses the community about the possible indictment that could come to the police officer who shot and killed the unarmed black teen named Khalil Harris, played by Algee Smith (Detroit and The New Edition Story). Her role isn’t as significant as the lawyer in Seven Seconds, but she helps to rally protesters on behalf of Khalil, which leads to a thrilling sequence similar to the sequence at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma.
Rated PG-13 for some violent content, drug material and language.
Running Time: 2 hrs. and 13 mins.