Starring: Amandla Stenberg, Regina Hall, Russell Hornsby
Director: George Tillman Jr.
Running Time: 133 mins
The Hate U Give is an American film about a young black girl who witnesses the shooting of her friend by a police officer, and struggles through the aftermath as media and community attention heaps pressure upon her as she tries to fight for what’s right.
I cannot understand why this film has gone so under the radar, because it really is a fantastic watch throughout. Delivered with intense passion that touches on a whole range of gritty and topical issues in incredibly hard-hitting fashion, while also featuring a beautifully heartwarming emotional core, as well as a stunning central performance from Amandla Stenberg, The Hate U Give proves a fascinating and exceptionally intense watch that grows and grows to boiling point over its long, but thoroughly engrossing runtime.
Before I get into all of things that make this movie so impressive, I want to touch on the fact that it is actually a film in the YA (young adult) genre, based on a YA novel and released with a PG-13/12A rating. Given the intensity of the subject matter (and particularly the way that the film portrays it), it feels a very strange clash of genres that confused me for the opening twenty minutes or so.
If you’re thinking about letting younger children see this film, I would advise you to watch the film beforehand, because, to me at least, it feels a whole lot darker and grittier than something most 12 year olds can cope with. It is intended, however, to get an important message out to younger people, and with its young central lead in Amandla Stenberg, it does that brilliantly, but this film is a rather special case where the intensity of its subject matter really does feel a little too much for its proclaimed target audience.
With that said, however, the fact that the film is so hard-hitting and so intense throughout is what makes it such an incredible watch at times, because it takes on a whole range of complex and very sensitive topics with immense passion and frankness, delving into them in a manner that I haven’t seen achieved in any other film in years.
You may think that you know the story. With reports on the news of black people being shot dead by police officers mistakenly thinking they were armed, it’s a topic that’s very much in the current consciousness, but what The Hate U Give does is go deeper than that simple headline, and really get into the factors surrounding why this sort of thing keeps happening, what can be done to stop it, and the unfortunate and almost always unreported consequences that reach much further into communities than just the immediate family of the deceased.
In that, this film has so much to say about race relations in the modern day, and while there are tiny portions of its discourse that feel a little one-sided, it is a very level-headed and well-written piece that introduces so much depth and insight into a series of very contemporary issues.
Going much further into the depths of the communities affected by these tragedies on such a regular basis, The Hate U Give brings out such power of emotion in a way that few other movies touching on the topics of race relations, black communities in modern day America, and an ever-growing sense of deep frustration and regret at the current state of affairs. If you think you’ve seen it all from Hollywood when it comes to those topics, then this film will prove an incredible surprise, offering a whole lot more than you could ever imagine from an outside perspective.
The film is deliberately inflammatory with its gritty intensity throughout, grabbing you right by the throat and demonstrating the injustices and frustrations that many people suffer in the modern day, with the use of some pretty heavy violence, dark political themes, and a strong sense of passion and frustration in its delivery of that discourse. However, while it may seem that it’s all dark and hard-hitting drama, there is another side to this movie that makes it even more striking.
With the backdrop of a community in total disarray, with threats and oppression coming from all angles, there is a beautifully heartwarming core to this movie, centring on the Carter family, and how they navigate their way through a period of immense difficulty.
While the film’s political themes are its main focus, the fact that it takes time to stop and watch a family come together in times of hardship, despite a wide range of pressures that threaten to push them away from each other – whether it be the increasing media presence after the shooting, the socio-economic differences between the family and those of the children’s classmates at a private school out of town, or the ever-present gangs in the local community.
And at the centre of that family is Starr, played brilliantly by Amandla Stenberg. While all the performances are excellent across the board, Stenberg really shines in an incredibly mature and deep performance that far surpassed all of my expectations right back at the beginning.
Once you come to realise that this isn’t just a young adult story, but one that speaks volumes about far wider-reaching issues, Stenberg’s stunning assurance and dramatic ability really hit home, as she goes from strength to strength showing her young character becoming deeper and deeper embroiled in a chaotic state of affairs, but growing at an incredible rate through experience and the unfortunate reality of her situation despite her age. She may not seem like much in the first twenty minutes, but the lengths to which Stenberg is able to take her character’s arc through that performance are truly exceptional.
Overall, I was blown away by The Hate U Give. It’s not a film that I’d recommend for younger viewers, simply because of the intensity and grit of its main themes, but for those who can handle it, it proves a deeply fascinating and passionate movie that goes far deeper into a whole range of intensely political issues than any other film of recent years, while still retaining a beautifully heartwarming human core that is further evoked in Amandla Stenberg’s brilliant central performance, and that’s why I’m giving this an 8.1.