The Hate U Give
“More than simply highlighting prejudice, The Hate U Give peels back another layer and examines the issues that can divide the Black community from within.”
Title: The Hate U Give (2018)
Director: George Tillman Jr. 👨🏾🇺🇸
Writers: Screenplay by Audrey Wells 👩🏼🇺🇸 based on the novel The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas 👩🏾🇺🇸
Reviewed by Dominique S. Johnson 👩🏾🇺🇸
In The Hate U Give, director George Tillman Jr. and screenwriter Audrey Wells effortlessly capture the vision of Angie Thomas, the novelist behind the bestselling YA novel from which it’s adapted. Filmmakers infuse the story with extra depth, thanks to superb acting, especially from Amandla Stenberg who plays the main character Starr.
Starr emotes pure vulnerability, giving audiences the perfect vehicle through which to empathize with the harrowing police brutality that unfolds onscreen. Without a doubt, she acts as the glue of Tillman Jr.’s work—not unlike her character, who holds her family together. This chemistry, such as the relationship between between Starr and her father Maverick (Russell Hornsby), proves pivotal to the film’s ability to make you care about the people whose lives we see affected by societal injustices.
Not only does the film address police brutality, it also weaves in topics of interracial dating, drug dealing within the Black community, and activism. Regardless its subject matter, however, emotions and momentum run high—at least, until the narrative stutters midway through, where a stronger editing hand could have been used as dialogue begins to repeat itself. Thankfully, momentum picks back up towards its final act, as we see Starr blossom from a tentative young woman into someone capable of leading a protest outside City Hall, megaphone in hand.
Culminating in a finale that bursts with pent-up emotion, I still find myself overwhelmed by the lingering messages of The Hate U Give. In its delivery, the film goes beyond other fictionalized depictions of police brutality, such as the problematic torture porn of Detroit or the deeply moving, but single episode of “Chapter V” from Netflix’s Dear White People. Rather than simply pointing out the systemic corruption that allows for the senseless murder of Black bodies, The Hate U Give looks inward and focuses on the corrosive nature of hatred, no matter how understandable its origins are. As Starr states in the film, “It’s the hate WE give that fucks little infants” and when she is finally able to break the cycle of unrelenting anger, the film achieves its most lasting impression.
The Hate U Give shines by giving Black women a voice. Starr and her mother Lisa (Regina Hall) have dominant personalities that are never portrayed as a threat to the masculinity of the men in their lives. Rather, their romantic interests—Starr’s boyfriend Chris (KJ Apa) and Lisa’s husband Maverick—feel drawn to precisely due to their strength.
Still, a small level of stereotypes about Black women persist. For example, Starr has a half-brother, Seven (Lamar Johnson), whose mother Iesha (Karan Kendrick) plays a conventional “welfare queen.” Not only is Iesha the girlfriend of gang leader King (Anthony Mackie), she puts her man first before her own children.
In addition, despite letting Starr drive the narrative, the filmmakers’ curiosity seems to lie more with the struggles of Black men. Central themes consider the lack of economic opportunities that compel Black men to deal drugs and join gangs. Meanwhile, women like Lisa, Iesha, Starr, or social justice activist April (Issa Rae), are left to grapple with the consequences.
GradeMyMovie.com Assessment: 55% of key cast and crew members were POC.
Both onscreen and off, The Hate U Give showcases diversity within the Black community. Characters come in a multitude of hues, each donning different coifs and hair texture. While there was backlash from fans of the novel regarding Starr’s casting with a biracial actress, Stenberg’s Danish roots never hinder the film’s messages about Blackness. Besides, Angie Thomas herself shut down further negativity during a live Q&A at Essence Fest in 2018 when she stated, “When I was writing the book, I imagined Amandla.” Stenberg does such a wonderful job of capturing what it means to be a young Black teen, that I forgot any comments about colorism as I fell into the movie’s narrative.
The Hate U Give tackles so many issues pertinent to the Black community, and I appreciated the way filmmakers presented different perspectives head-on. Rather than shying away from conflict, viewers see all manner of opinions when it comes to tense topics, such as police shootings or even how best to define success as a Black man or woman from “the hood.” Is getting out good enough, as pragmatist Lisa might say, or is Maverick right and success hinges on transforming the status quo—for him, sticking it out in Garden Heights and changing it from within?
We see another complex, race-related issue get dissected onscreen when Starr discusses police protocol with her uncle Carlos (Common). Tearfully, Starr asks him—a police officer, too—how the world could possibly defend a cop who kills a young Black man in cold blood. Uncle Carlos plays devil’s advocate, recounting the thought processes that can lead to a police officer shooting someone for something as innocuous as reaching into an open car window for a hairbrush. The conversation deepens, however, when Starr asks her uncle point blank: in the same scenario, if the young Black man were instead white, wearing a suit, and driving a Mercedes, would the outcome be the same? Or would Uncle Carlos give a warning first, before shooting? The camera closes in on Uncle Carlos’ conflicted expression as he ruefully admits that he would warn a white man before shooting. For me, this scene stands out due to the painful reminder of universal discrimination against Black people. It’s not just broader society keeping us down; sometimes, we’re guilty of it too.
Finally, the racial complexity of The Hate U Give stretches through all facets of the film, not just in scenes of overt police conflict. When Starr spends time at the private high school she attends, at the behest of her parents who wants to keep her safe, she actively refrains from acting “hood” around her white friends and classmates. But at home in Garden Heights, her body language changes completely as we see a more relaxed Starr—one who feels at ease around her family and community. The clear code-switching felt instantly relatable, as I recalled my own high school experience of navigating the waters between being an “acceptable” Black girl around my white friends versus being “cool enough” for my Black friends. The fact that we even have to do this feels like an exhausting act of self-patrolling, yet it’s something myself and many people of color must do when navigating white spaces in America. At least when we share the experience together, watching it validated in The Hate U Give, the burden feels incrementally lessened.
Mediaversity Grade: A- 4.58/5
The Hate U Give represents more than just a fictional story. Rather than simply highlighting the prejudices and microaggressions we face every single day, novelist Angie Thomas peels back another layer and examines the issues that can divide the Black community from within.
All the more reason why I wish The Hate U Give made more money at the box office. Released in October of this year, the film only brought in $32 million on a budget of $23 million. And while this doesn’t constitute a flop, for a film of this caliber, more people should be willing to opt into a fresh narrative about race relations in our country.
Truly, The Hate U Give is one of the best films of 2018 thanks to its self reflection. While it’s easier to rail against inequality, Thomas and Tillman Jr. tackle the harder conversation while also giving their audience members actual tools to cope in the face of such debilitating odds—powerful tools, like our voices, or the wisdom to know that violence only begets more violence. After all, it isn’t just the hate you give to our little infants; it’s the hate we give, too, that can hold us back from progress.