The Hate U Give is a blistering indictment of cyclical violence and cyclical poverty, while delivering a star making performance by its main cast. Adapted from the popular novel, the title is taken from a Tupac lyric: T.H.U.G. L.I.F.E is an acronym for “The Hate U Give Little Infants F#*&$ Everybody.”
And it is this message that is carried throughout this film’s social conscience. A never-ending spiral of violence falls down on the next generation, and continues old wounds and old wars.
So how do we solve it?
Enter our star, appropriately named Starr (Amandla Stenberg). The film opens with her and her brother as young children being give “The Talk” by their black-panther-inspired father. This is “the talk” that black parents need to have with their children about how to interact with the police warning them that if they do not comply and act exactly a certain way they may end up dead.
She lives her life in two worlds. One is at her tony private school across town, where she is one of the only black students. She does not use street slang, she can’t be aggressive, she doesn’t quote rap lyrics, because she doesn’t want to give any of the students any reason to believe that she is an angry or threatening black person. She has a white boyfriend, who cutely tries to use this lingo on her, which is almost endearing but also very cringe-worthy– likely intentionally so.
Starr’s other world is at home in her neighborhood. She is free to love her sneakers and Hip-Hop and talk anyway she wants. She also faces violence and drugs regularly.
The opening scene foreshadows an incident not long into the film where Starr and a childhood friend are pulled over by the police and he is murdered when he goes to reach for a comb and the officer believes it is gun. Starr is then thrust unintentionally into a very rough position.
The strong culture of silence when violence happens– not snitching to the police, even when the police are, ironically, the perpetrators– in order to cover for the local drug dealers and other people in power. One of the most powerful, King, is played by Anthony Mackie, who gives possibly the best performance in this film and one of the best of his career. He is charming and strong. You can see why he is powerful just based on his charisma. On the other hand, every word he says is backed by muscle and guns. And despite a history between him and Starr’s father, he doesn’t want her to speak up against police violence, because her friend was one of his dealers.
Of course, this is the headline in most of the major media. Young black kid gets shot for no reason, but he was a drug dealer, so what? It’s at this point where Starr is torn between speaking out or not. She feels the need to stand up for her friend and against the violence that plagues her community, but she also wants to retain her anonymity. She knows speaking out, especially publicly, will make her just another black victim in the eyes of her classmates, and also place a target on her and her family and their home. And while she navigates this ethical quandry, even in silence, she is exposed to the ways casual racism creeps into her interactions with her white friends at school. Some of them get upset when she starts talking more about social justice or police brutality (sound like any #Comicsgate people we know?)
Her story is in a sense a superhero origin story. And her voice and her opinion is her superpower. There is a moment late in the film where she confronts police violence threatening to turn a peaceful protest into a riot, and she stands up for what she believes in. It’s one of the most beautiful scenes on film this year — almost like the No Man’s Land scene from Wonder Woman in terms of a hero taking up her mantle and finding her place in the universe — and the only downside is that everyone who truly needs to see this film never will.
This may be an unpopular opinion, but this is a better film than A Star is Born, and most of the other Oscarbait that we are about to see. The performances are crisp. The script is tight. And even despite an ending that was maybe a little bit too pat, it was also harrowing and you really get a sense of how easily things could have turned out tragically.
We see this tragedy too often played out in real life. Or perhaps, we don’t see it because of the pervasive invisibility of violence in communities of color, which is often treated with a condescending tone as though it is some moral failing of the victims of crime and oppression.
This film reveals the not-so-invisible hands that oppress everyone. It has everything to do with who’s getting rich off of the system, and also a media complicit in telling the same stories over and over that contribute to white supremacy.
This is a fantastic film, and worthy of both your attention and your heart space. If you can’t see it in the theater, make sure you see it in some other way, streaming or at home, before awards season. If this doesn’t end up with several Golden Globe and Oscar, etc nominations, we also have a broken, racist awards system.
4 out of 5 stars