The Hate U Give, George Tillman, Jr’s emotionally charged film features a stunning performance from Amandla Stenberg and an Oscar-worthy screenplay from Audrey Wells. Now in theaters.
2018 has been a year full of explorative films that examine the true conditions of the United States, namely subverted classes of peoples and areas of major metropolitan areas. Spike Lee’s joint, BlackKlansman is an early, powerful example of this trend while Sorry to Bother You uses humor to show racial integration as an allegory for further repressing people. Finally, Carlos Lopez Estrada’s Blindspotting, which took Sundance and SXSW by storm shows a modern look at gentrification and its socioeconomic impact on citizens who are already impacted by a government who purposely diminishes people of less means.
What more could be said this year?
As it turns out with George Tillman, Jr’s The Hate U Give, quite a lot actually.
Amadla Stenberg plays Starr Carter, a high school junior who lives in the inner city and attends school in a more privileged suburb along with her older half-brother, Seven (Lamar Johnson). Their parents, Lisa (Regina Hall) and Maverick (Russell Hornsby) made the decision early on that their children deserved the best opportunities to be able to grow beyond their surroundings. Maverick spent time in jail and Lisa is a level-headed mom who understood why it was important to give her children the best possible education.
As a result of this decision, and brilliantly told from her point of view, Starr must adapt to her surroundings, essentially acting white, while her privileged friends, Hailey (Sabrina Carpenter) and Maya (Megan Lewis) act black and think it’s cool to do so. Starr has also attracted the high school jock, Chris (KJ Apa) who cares for her, but doesn’t understand her reticence to share her life fully with him.
Audrey Wells, who adapted Angie Thomas’s book of the same name, really taps in to this point of view to carry Starr’s feelings. Critically, this distinction is important for the second half of the film, because the character of Starr, when she returns to her home has to transition back to her ghetto lifestyle, something that she doesn’t truly agree with or represent; she is stuck in the worst of both societies.
During a party one night, she encounters a crush, Khalil (Algee Smith) and bored with the party, they decide to go for a ride, which attracts the police. Starr, who understands what the stop represents, heeds her dad’s wishes to comply with the officer while Khalil, who is portrayed as a ‘hood rat, defies the officer’s commands, which leads to tragedy.
Despite the tragedy, Khalil represents the best part of the film: someone who Starr could relate to and confide in; we get to see the raw Starr. Unable to confide in her school friends or even Chris, the repressed Starr brings out the worst in her as she tries to cope with the tragedy.
This is the dichotomy that we all struggle with, but for Starr, her emotions makes the journey towards her destiny all the more difficult as she pushes away from all she knows. Her reactions attract the attention of a local drug lord, King (Anthony Mackie) and her uncle, Carlos (Common), a police officer himself.
Audrey Wells script touches on all of the social issues that affect everyone, from “Black Lives Matter” to racial relations and segregation to awkward integration and privilege versus strife. The most impactful moments happen when Starr stands up for herself, and Amadla Stenberg is simply breathtaking in her emotional portrayal. Tillman’s direction puts us right in the middle of her actions, the consequences of those actions and the decisions she must make.
One of the inspirations for the film’s title and Angie Thomas’s novel of the same name is Tupac Shakur and his moniker, T.H.U.G.L.I.F.E., the central thesis of Wells’s script and the driving force behind Starr’s interactions with both environments. Ultimately, the revelation behind her transition from an emotionally driven character to a resolutely determined young woman who decides to affect change is the power in the film and in Stenberg’s performance.
George Tillman, Jr is from Milwaukee, my own stomping grounds. I admittedly lived in a suburb of the Milwaukee area, and saw numerous instances where the events depicted in The Hate U Give were happening when I was a teenager in the 90s. I had the opportunity to attend the services of a church in what I mistakenly termed the “inner city” and I had such a positive experience that I never wanted to let it go.
Films like The Hate U Give open all eyes to the destructive forces that pit citizen against citizen. The film is nothing without the novel nor Audrey Wells (Under the Tuscan Sun, A Dog’s Purpose, The Truth About Cats & Dogs), who sadly passed away recently. The lasting impression of the film and its story will be felt for years, but 2018 is shaping up to be a powerful filmic movement that should not be missed and The Hate U Give is at the center of it all.
Now in theaters, The Hate U Give is rated PG-13