Before Angie Thomas’ Young Adult novel “The Hate U Give,” dropped in February 2017, or even hit shelves, a movie deal was already in the works. The movie, directed by George Tillman Jr. and starring Amandla Stenberg, was released to theaters on Oct. 19.
“The Hate U Give” film follows the same plot as its original book. After a party, Starr Carter (played by Stenberg) gets a ride home from her childhood friend Khalil. After being pulled over by a police officer, Khalil is told by the officer to get out of the car. This unfortunately leads to Khalil being shot and killed by the officer, right in front of Starr in the passenger seat. In the aftermath of his death, Khalil becomes the newest face of the Black Lives Matter movement as Starr’s community, and life, is shaken up by this tragedy.
The movie had a lot of aspects that made it so impactful, and star power was certainly one of them. Stenberg has played characters in other Young Adult adaptations in the past few years, including “The Hunger Games,” “Everything, Everything,” and, most recently, “The Darkest Minds.” However, this role may have been her very best so far. Starr Carter comes to life through Stenberg. The audience exalts in her joy and mourns in her misery. She is emphatic and honest, daring the audience to disagree with her at every turn. The temptation to believe her, to follow where she leads, is overwhelming.
Other shining stars in this film can be seen in Starr’s family. Her father, Maverick, played by Russell Hornsby, had perhaps the best performance in the entire movie. Unapologetically black, he never shies away from speaking his mind and owning his truth. Viewers may feel entranced by his wisdom and determination to fight for what’s right without concession. The speeches he gives his daughter throughout the narrative aren’t just inspiring for Starr. They’re monumental for anyone watching. The film brought other names to the screen, including rapper Common, actress and comedian Regina Hall, producer Issa Rae, and recent “Riverdale” star KJ Apa.
Beyond the acting power though, the message in this movie shines through the screen. Starr is conflicted in a way that many black students around the country can relate to. She’s stuck between fitting in at her white private school and finding a place of her own in her black neighborhood. Starr wants to relate to her white friends but knows that they don’t truly understand her, knows that trying to explain it would make her even more distant from them. Trapped between stereotypes and expectations of how she’s supposed to act, the added tragedy does nothing to relieve her conflicted mind.
When she finally does decide to speak up about what happened to her that night, and what it means for America as a whole, viewers can’t help but sit up and listen. The writers behind this movie don’t let those watching feel like these actions are happening in a bubble. Analogies and comparisons are woven into the plot seamlessly, letting anyone watching know that these issues are real, and they don’t get better through willful ignorance. Protests and news reports eerily echo what most Americans see on their TV screens all too often. The script dares its audience to make excuses for these shootings. It leaves watchers gasping for breath by the end, desperate to grab a bullhorn and act.
On a lighter note, this movie highlights brighter, happier sides of the black community as well. One of the very first scenes is of a party, hip-hop music pouring out of speakers. The script gives due credit to late rapper Tupac, for whom the title of the movie is inspired by. Writers included portions set right in Starr’s own community, at the neighborhood lunch spot or the barbershop. One scene even pokes fun at Starr’s white boyfriend, Chris, quizzing him on what good soul food truly is. The movie does a phenomenal job at illuminating the strength of the black community when combined as one, and how only through these countless voices, can any message be heard.
The film does make some major changes from the original novel. Young Adult fans may notice missing scenes revealing Starr’s insecurities with her friends and her boyfriend, and wish for more inclusion of Starr’s uncle, Carlos. Nevertheless, the additions far outweigh any removals, and make the emotional journey even more moving and thought-provoking. The narrative also does a fantastic job of coming full circle in its message.
Yes, “The Hate U Give” is about police brutality, racism, and the Black Lives Matter movement. But it is also about a black girl, trying to find a place for herself. As much progress as America has made since the Civil Rights Movement, racism, bias, and social pressures remain. A fact that this Young Adult novel turned tear-jerker does nothing to shy away from. It is honest, hard-hitting, emotional, and so, so needed. It doesn’t get much more timely than this.
Jordyn Dees // Opinion Editor