Movie Review: The Hate U Give
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Director: George Tillman Jr.
by Jason Koenigsberg
This movie is an outcry. An absolute whirlwind of emotions and a Readers Digest education on white privilege and ignorance to how millions of African-Americans live. The Hate U Give (an acronym for T.H.UG.) is a bold movie, unafraid to push buttons and say things most other movies would not and it is all told from the point of view of a teenage black girl. Thus making the story accessible to adults and teens alike. The fact that The Hate U Give is rated PG-13 makes it available to a wider audience so that the discussions afterward can reach more people and give the film more power.
It is the story of Starr (Amandla Stenberg), an African-American high school girl living a dual life, one with her family in her neighborhood surrounded by other people of her race, and the other at the private school where she attends surrounded by rich white kids. After she witnesses a police officer shoot and kill her unarmed male friend, she becomes conflicted as her white prep school world collides with her private family life and creates clashes between her and her friends and family in both parts of her life. It shows the point of view of how everyone reacts differently to a black boy being shot and killed from those that knew him and loved him, to white kids finding a reason to protest, to the police officers and the fear they have when they pull someone over at night. All get to voice their standpoint on the issue but the real voice that matters from the perspective of the film is Starr’s.
Teens are always under pressure in life and in the movies. But the strenuous pressure put on Starr is something few movies have ever dared to show. Amandla Stenberg deserves at the very least an Oscar nomination for such a strong and dominant performance as she is able to carry every scene in this movie with her words, her facial expressions, and most of all her voice when she decides to use it. There has never been a heroine on screen quite like Starr. Russell Hornsby as her father also deserves strong consideration for Best Supporting Actor attention. He commands the screen and makes The Hate U Give feel real, not like just another teen drama. It is a rare and special type of film that makes you forget you are watching actors on a screen.
The film opens up with rap music and shows a shot of an urban neighborhood. The camera pans and stops on a window and slowly pulls in on an African-American family. Their father is teaching his children about how to behave around the police if they ever get pulled over. He is training his family to be law-abiding citizens but warning them that sometimes the law does not favor their race. This is a look at how African-American families live with the fear of police brutality lingering in the back of their minds, something most white families never have to think about. The Hate U Give is a slice of life for audiences the same way John Singleton’s Boyz N The Hood (1991) was for audiences when that was released. It also teaches the audience why it is acceptable on the surface for white teenagers to use slang on a daily basis and why black teenagers are judged differently (interpretation called ‘ghetto’) if they use slang and do not speak proper English.
The Hate U Give is eye-opening for how white people perceive blacks and how blacks perceive whites. That race and color matter even when in our hearts we say that it should not. The title is explained as a reference to the late rapper Tupac Shakur. His legacy has endured over twenty years after his death and is on full display in The Hate U Give as we see his picture, hear his music and how it is still relevant and speaks to generations of African-Americans. There are so many small moments in this film that absorb the audience and make The Hate U Give such an emotional and heart-wrenching journey.
Movies about teens, for teens, is always a demographic that will have a voice in movies. But The Hate U Give is a teenage voice unlike any that we have ever heard in cinema. One that needs to be heard now and very loudly. This is a very different and candid portrait of life where violence can erupt at any moment. The final shot ties everything back to the beginning showing that The Hate U Give is about the importance of family and speaking up and what makes where we live our homes. We all need to open our eyes to injustice no matter how hard it is to speak up when we witness racism and unfair treatment of others. This is one of the best films of the year and hopefully the more people see it, the more it can open up discussions about how we can improve our lives so that we do not turn on the news to see another young black man die at the hands of the police.