‘The Hate U Give’ is powerfully honest parallel of racism in America today

Amandla Stenberg stars in the movie adaptation of brutally honest racial drama “The Hate U Give.”

This review contains spoilers for the movie “The Hate U Give.”

With the rise of young activists passionate about issues regarding racism, police brutality and the Black Lives Matter movement, the release of Angie Thomas’ debut novel “The Hate U Give” last February demanded the nation’s attention. The powerful, painful truth Thomas packed into the story made it an important narrative that reflected the systematic oppression occurring in today’s society.

A No. 1 New York Times bestseller, the announcement that there would be a movie adaptation for “The Hate U Give” generated a lot of interest. Personally, I was super excited about the film — having followed the cinematic career of Amandla Stenberg since her days as Rue from The Hunger Games, I really looked forward to her portrayal of the main character, Starr Carter. She did not disappoint.

The movie follows Carter, who lives in a predominantly black neighborhood but attends a private high school where she is one of the few black students. Carter finds herself struggling with two identities—one that uses slang with her black friends, and the other, which is strictly non-confrontational and avoids ‘acting black.’ While ‘acting black’ is supposed to make her white classmates look cool, Carter observes that when she uses slang, it makes her “hood.”

Starr tries her best to navigate between these two identities, keeping them as separate as possible. But the existence of this separation begins to unravel as Carter’s childhood best friend Khalil (Algee Smith) gets shot by a police officer. The office had thought Khalil was holding a gun when in reality he was unarmed, just holding an innocent hairbrush. Carter is now faced with the choice of either speaking up on the horrific incident or staying quiet so she wouldn’t be treated differently as the pitiful girl who watched her friend get shot.

The longer Carter hesitates on speaking up, the messier things get. Instead of focusing on the police officer that shot Khalil, the press attempts to paint Khalil as a drug-dealing criminal. If Carter tells the truth, she could get into deep trouble with King (Anthony Mackie), the leader of the gang, King Lords, which Khalil was involved with. If she doesn’t speak up, the public will never know the full truth of what happened the night Khalil was shot. The balance she struggled to maintain between her two identities shatters at this stressful time. Complications ensue as Carter makes difficult choices that could possibly change her life.

I think the film was intelligent and it poignantly pinpoints the injustices that are paralleled in today’s reality. However, something I think could’ve been better was the script—the complications in Starr’s life ended up translating into the film as messy. The plot expands a lot and the movie just couldn’t condense it down.

With a runtime of two hours and 12 minutes, I was a bit restless by the end of the story. The script tried to include many details, but it left some scenes awkwardly unfinished. I especially wish it addressed KJ Apa’s character as Carter’s boyfriend, Chris, a little more. Chris is a very supportive boyfriend but when he confronts Carter about being the witness to Khalil’s murder, he makes a very problematic comment heard commonly today—“I don’t see color.” Carter reacts negatively, saying, “If you don’t see my blackness, you don’t see me.” Chris touches Carter’s face, telling her, “I see you,” and that was that. Instant forgiveness and the topic wasn’t brought up again. I think the film all but brushes by this issue of ‘colorblindness.’ I definitely think more could have been developed there.

On the flip side, I really liked Carter’s conflict with Hailey (Sabrina Carpenter). Hailey is one of Carter’s white friends at school. Carter realizes that people like Hailey only support black people’s rights when it’s convenient for them. The two eventually get into a fight when Hailey comments that the officer that shot Khalil deserves better and that he was only trying to defend himself. Hailey later also makes the comment that while a hairbrush certainly doesn’t particularly look like a weapon, it did look like a gun when brandished in Khalil’s hand. This riles up Carter, serving as one of her final breaking points.

All in all, it’s an unflinchingly honest movie that tackles important and relevant issues of today. It mixes the heavier subject of racism while maintaining a more lighthearted view into a teenage girl’s life. It seemed as though they tried to pack too many different things into the movie, and the structure was a little off because it had too many scenes that acted as a climaxing point when they weren’t. The music selection could have been better, in my opinion, and some of the characterizations could have been improved. Having said that, at the end of the day, I think “The Hate U Give” should certainly be a movie that everyone puts on their list.

Edited by Siena DeBolt | sdebolt@themaneater.com

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