Looking Back at 2010s Films: The Hate U Give (2018)

4 Nov
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By Tanner Smith

If there’s a movie that should have received a lot more attention in 2018, it’s “The Hate U Give.”

And I missed it too. I didn’t see it until it hit Blu-Ray well into 2019. If I had seen it on the big screen wherever I could, I would have championed the film so hard! (Not that it would’ve made that big a difference–but you know what they say: every little bit helps. Right?)

This would have ranked high on my year-end Top 20–I really think it’s that good.

It’s a film about race relations. Modern-day race relations. One of the biggest hits of the year (maybe you’ve heard of it–the Oscar-winning “Green Book”) dealt with race relations at a distance, whereas this film (and “Blindspotting,” for that matter–another small treasure from 2018) deals with it head-on. For some reason, we don’t like to deal with this issue unless it’s set in an era in which it was at its worst. We seem to forget that things aren’t so peachy-keen today either! (Actually, we don’t forget it, because we see it often in today’s media!)

OK, I’m not going to be the young liberal white guy that makes a political statement (I’m more of a centrist anyway–what place do I have in politics?) in a blog post that looks at an excellent film. So let me talk about the film…

“The Hate U Give” is a coming-of-age story based on the young-adult novel of the same name by Angie Thomas. Our main character is 16-year-old Starr (yes, with two “R’s”), who lives two identities in her life. One of them hangs out at home in her impoverished, predominantly African-American neighborhood. And the other goes to a prestigious, predominantly white prep school, where she doesn’t want to be labeled as the “poor girl from the hood,” so she has white friends calling her “girl” and overcompensating by overexposing black culture around her.

Starr has trouble balancing out both identities, especially when she has to keep her white potential-boyfriend, the preppy but sincere Chris, a secret from her old-school father, Maverick. She’s not comfortable at home either, knowing first-hand the effects of drugs and gangs and racism at an early age. She’s unsure where she belongs, as she’s uncomfortable either way.

Starr’s worlds collide one fateful night when she witnesses a friend being shot dead by a police officer (who mistook the friend’s hairbrush for a gun at initial glance) and is handcuffed by his side. Since then, she opens her eyes and realizes she can’t live two different identities anymore. Thus, she sets out to find her own voice.

The story of the killing is national news, but Starr’s identity as witness is kept secret to everyone outside of her family. Her prep-school friends know nothing of her involvement, and Starr’s troubling attempt to keep it secret bears down on her, especially when it becomes clear that her friends have no idea what they are talking about regarding the subject. She does agree to be interviewed on TV to testify her role as long as her identity is still hidden, but the name-drop of a neighborhood gang gets her in more hot water than expected. And that’s only the midway point for this dilemma.

Some of the most brutally honest moments involving race relations occur with Starr’s prep-school friends. For example, her classmates stage a “Black Lives Matter” walkout, but it’s clear to Starr that they’re not very troubled by the tragic incident as much as they are excited to have an excuse to miss class. And there’s also her boyfriend Chris, whom Starr starts to distrust, especially after he says he doesn’t see color when he sees her (to which she replies that he needs to see her race). But in a sweet development, he does come around to seeing her point and he sticks with her because he does genuinely care for her, and she becomes less ashamed of him (as do we).

The direction from George Tillman, Jr. is terrific, as he handles both the quiet, heartfelt moments and the (very) tense, violent moments flawlessly–even when things go from bad to worse (I’m talking “street riot” kind of worse), we still feel like we’re in the same universe that was set up before and this was inevitable. The writing from the late Audrey Wells (who died of cancer shortly before the film’s release) adapts the book beautifully, stating such effective social commentary and brilliant characterization. All of the acting is spot-on from everybody, from Russell Hornby as Starr’s father to Sabrina Carpenter as who Starr was her best friend. But there is obviously one standout that practically makes most of the movie: Amandla Stenberg as Starr. She delivers a performance that is nothing short of brilliant as a 16-year-old girl who would like nothing more than live a normal life as a regular 16-year-old girl but sadly has no choice in the matter. Stenberg has been a star on the rise since “The Hunger Games”–I can’t wait to see what she does next.

I did mention that things go from bad to worse in this story, but don’t mistake the film as a depressing outlook for a hopeless future. It does remind of the struggle that many people (mostly young people) face against an unfair, corrupt system by sticking to their beliefs, but it also shows that the battle can be won (even if they’re still fighting the war).

“The Hate U Give” deserves more attention. It’s available for streaming, on DVD, on Blu-Ray, what have you–I can’t recommend it enough…it got an A+ on CinemaScore, for crying out loud! Doesn’t that mean anything to anybody?

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