A gripping and sometimes shocking depiction of race relations in the United States – The Hate U Give shines a spotlight on the tragic events that can occur when you mix gang warfare, police brutality, drugs and poverty.
Seen through the eyes of teenage high school student Starr Carter, the film is also a damning indictment of the divisions between rich and poor and black and white in contemporary America.
Written for the screen by the late Audrey Wells, the Hate U Give is an ‘in-your-face’ account of how quickly things can go wrong when you mix police, guns and overreaction: especially when black people are concerned.
Young black teenager Amandla Stenberg gives a standout performance as Starr – an unfortunate witness to the tragic shooting of one of her oldest friends by an over-zealous police officer at a routine traffic stop.
The film, which suggests a change of attitude is well overdue in certain parts of the US, takes its title from late rapper Tupac’s famous body tattoo ‘THUGLIFE’ – an acronym for ‘The Hate U Give Little Infants F***s Everyone’.
Adapted from a Young Adult (YA) novel by Angie Thomas, the director is George Tillman Jr. – well known for his rapper movie Notorious in 2009.
In the film, Starr lives a ‘double life’ as a preppy, outwardly wealthy, private school student by day – who lives in a tough black neighbourhood by night.
As the daughter of a former ‘Black Panther’ activist, Starr is well aware of the huge divide between her daily school life, and the one she lives with her parents and siblings at home.
In order to afford the expensive school, and to help protect her from some of the more unsavoury aspects of the black community, Starr’s Dad (played by Russell Hornsby) runs a successful grocery store; and takes care to do all he can to be a model citizen.
Unfortunately, he cannot be everywhere at once, and when Starr bumps into a long-lost childhood friend and ‘bad-boy’ Khalil (Algee Smith) at a party, she reignites an old friendship that eventually leads to disaster.
The problems start when gunfire between gang members breaks up the party, and the two young friends quickly escape in Khalil’s flash car.
It soon becomes obvious that despite Starr having a wealthy, white boyfriend, Khalil’s boyhood crush on Starr has not diminished.
He exhibits all the hallmarks of a love struck teenager as they chat about the old days: even reminiscing about when they each owned a Harry Potter magic wand as kids.
Khalil is adamant he did not keep his wand, although Starr thinks he may be lying so as not to appear weak.
Soon after this, they are pulled over by a jumpy and inexperienced traffic officer, and Khalil is determined to look cool despite the setback, and to put on a brave front in front of Starr.
Unfortunately, this backfires when in the darkness, the policeman mistakes a hairbrush Khalil picks up off the front seat of the car for a gun, and fatally shoots him.
The rest of the film highlights the terrible dilemma Starr faces when she is forced to choose between her ‘black’ identity, and the ‘white’ private school lifestyle she has been living.
The film comes to a head when Starr decides to testify under oath in front of a grand jury in an attempt to take the police officer to trial for his actions, and the black population rises in anger at the indiscriminate killing of one of their own.
An entertaining and highly-charged racial drama, the Hate U Give opens on Thursday January 31, 2019 at Luna Leederville, Luna On SX and Luna Outdoor.
By Mike Peeters