Directed by: George Tillman Jr.
Premise: Based on the novel by Angie Thomas. An African American teenager (Amandla Stenberg) lives in an impoverished and mostly black neighborhood but attends an affluent and predominantly white private school. When a black friend is shot by a white police officer, the tension in her identity is stretched to the limit.
What Works: 2018 has seen the release of several movies that dramatize the politics of the Black Lives Matter movement including Blindspotting, Sorry to Bother You, and (to a lesser extent) BlacKkKlansman. The Hate U Give is another of these films and it takes on issues of identity and civil rights very directly. The story unfolds from the point of view of Starr, an African American teenager played by Amandla Stenberg. A large part of the movie is about the complexity of Starr’s identity and that’s where the film excels. Starr is split between allegiance to her immediate community and the friends she’s made at school. The film deals with that complexity very well, examining identity in several facets, including the compromises Starr makes to appease her white peers and the tension those compromises create in other parts of her life. That tension boils over when Starr is witness to the shooting of an unarmed African American teenager by a white police officer. She knows that speaking out will shatter the delicate balance between her home and school identities and the movie draws out that tension in a way that is dramatic but also thoughtful. Actress Amandla Stenberg is terrific in the role of Starr. She feels authentically like a teenager. The film doesn’t box her in and allows Starr to want social justice but also to go to prom. The tension in Starr’s identity is evident underneath Stenberg’s performance and she puts a human face on the film’s politics. As a political film, The Hate U Give has a few impressive choices. One is to repurpose familiar images. The protest scenes are staged and shot to resemble news footage from the 2014 Ferguson protests. The film also takes a sharp dig at disingenuous clicktivism. The Hate U Give is in touch with this political moment and has something intelligent to say about it.
What Doesn’t: The Hate U Give is a movie with a political agenda on its sleeve. That in itself is not a problem—art ought to have something to say—but the movie is very didactic and increasingly so as it goes along. At times the filmmakers lecture the audience as opposed to dramatizing the conflicts and allowing the political point to emerge organically. This is most evident in the voiceover. That feature of the movie is quite effective at first, embedding us in Starr’s point of view and speeding us through the exposition, but by the end the voiceover is overused and over explains everything. As a political film, and especially as a Black Lives Matter movie, The Hate U Give will only speak to viewers already disposed to receive its message. The movie also strangely undermines itself in the ending. This story is intended to stir the viewer’s discontentment by exposing institutional racism and police violence. It does that but, after a series of false endings, The Hate U Give concludes on a finale that wraps everything up too neatly. The ending gives the impression that injustice has been solved and that undermines the urgency of the film’s political message.
Bottom Line: The Hate U Give combines righteous indignation with a considered take on current events. The movie occasionally stumbles over its own message, sacrificing drama for politics, but the central performance by Amandla Stenberg holds it together.
Episode: #726 (November 18, 2018)