"Love Covers a Whole Lotta Hate"
What You Need To Know:
THE HATE U GIVE brings a fresh, timely approach to the life and death interaction between police and young African Americans. A black teenager named Starr attends private school with mostly white students. She has a white boyfriend. At a party, Starr meets an ex-boyfriend. He offers her a ride home after some shots are fired outside somewhere in the neighborhood. Starr witnesses a policeman shooting him during a traffic stop when he tries to pull a hairbrush from his back pocket. The shooting turns Starr’s world upside down.
THE HATE U GIVE is mostly absent the inflammatory rhetoric of other similar movies. Amandla Stenberg is superb as the teenage girl who’s torn apart by the two worlds she inhabits. The movie overall is well made and tries hard to bridge the divide. It has a strong Christian, moral, pro-family worldview, despite some politically correct moments and anti-police rhetoric. For example, Starr’s uncle is a policeman who helps her see the policeman’s side of the story. However, THE HATE U GIVE contains some foul language and other content that warrant caution for older children.
THE HATE U GIVE brings to the screen a more refined, and sensitive, perspective to the continuously simmering controversy surrounding the killing of black suspects at the hands of the police, who are perceived as way too ready to shoot first and ask questions later.
Starr Carter (Amandla Stenberg) is a very well-adjusted teenager who lives in a low income all black neighborhood, but attends a private school with white students from well-heeled families. So far, Starr and her brother Seven (Lamar Johnson) have been comfortably attending Stephenson High in an affluent section of town without incident. They’ve blended into the school population by quietly blurring and minimizing their racial differences. Going one step further Starr is dating Chris (K.J. Apa), a white student. The two love each other and are considering taking the next step to a more serious relationship.
One night at a party in her own neighborhood, Starr comes across her childhood friend Kahlil (Algee Smith), with whom she also had a crush as a young girl, and who was also the first boy she ever kissed. They are thrilled to see each other again and start sharing old memories, but eventually she lets Khalil know she now has a boyfriend. That doesn’t stop them from enjoying their time together and reminiscing about the past when suddenly shots ring out and everybody scrambles for the exits.
Kahlil offers to take Starr home, but on the way to her house the couple is pulled over by the police, Kahlil becomes a little belligerent, and the cop asks him to step out of the car, but when he reaches back in for his hair brush the officer mistakes it for a gun and to Starr’s unimaginable horror the routine traffic stop ends in tragedy as the cop shoots Khalil dead.
Starr’s world is turned upside down by the shooting. At school the racial and class differences between her and her white schoolmates now come rushing to the surface and become starkly apparent as she struggles to process what just happened and deal with the mounting ramifications. Starr begins to notice things she either never saw before, or refused to see, in the way her white schoolmates viewed life from a racial perspective. However, Starr’s uncle Carlos (Common) who is a cop himself tries to bring some balance into Starr’s struggle to think and do the right thing by explaining what the other side goes through whenever they have to make a traffic stop. Meanwhile, Starr’s mother, Lisa (Regina Carter), does the best she can to keep everyone on an even keel and protect her family from any physical and emotional harm.
Things don’t stop there, however. As it turns out, Kahlil also happened to be a local drug dealer. In addition, King (Anthony Mackle), an old associate of Starr’s father, Maverick or “Mav” for short (Russel Hornsby), was Khalil’s boss. Mav, who went straight and became a family man many years ago, still finds it hard to erase some vestiges from the past. King is no exception when he comes back calling to make sure that, if Starr has to testify, she will not implicate him with Kahlil.
Absent the arguably inflammatory, and fruitless, antics of a Spike Lee, or a Colin Kaepernick, this riveting account of the tension that exists between the African American community and the police over the seemingly higher incidence of police shootings resulting in the death of unarmed black suspects goes a long way to advance the conversation. It provides some badly needed reflection on all sides, and hopefully will reduce if not completely eliminate this tragic pattern of deadly violence.
Although coming dangerously close to bowing to the usual left-wing pressure groups and other strident self-serving interests, Writer Angie Thomas manages to walk a fine line, and as such deserves much credit. Certainly this movie will not satisfy everyone on either side, but it shows a willingness to expand the discussion. For example, the value of a strong united family is celebrated, and in Christian fashion Mav, as the Carter patriarch, puts his family ahead of all else, including himself. In addition, the Carters are shown praying before dinner, and thankfully the usual flow of on screen obscenities is kept to a minimum. That said, a church scene after Khalil’s funeral shows a social justice pressure group taking the podium to speak to an angry audience that becomes even more enraged as the service progresses. It also doesn’t offer a very flattering picture of what a Christian congregation’s behavior should be. The most serious faux pas, however, perhaps occurs when the idea is floated that a lack of opportunity, or jobs, or health care, can sometimes justify adopting a life of crime. Finally, Common, who plays the role of Carlos, Starr’s uncle and a police officer himself, is given a limited, and rather clichéd, script during his defense of the difficult situations that police often find themselves in while doing their job. Moreover, Starr’s friend Hailey (Sabrina Carpenter), instead of being approached and corrected in love, is treated very harshly by Starr for her misunderstanding of racial issues.
Nevertheless, the movie as a whole is well made and tries hard to bridge the divide. Amandla Stenberg’s performance is superb in her role as the ambivalent Starr who’s torn apart by the two worlds she inhabits. Algee Smith, as the charming Khalil and looking a lot like a younger version of another famous actor with the same last name, is thoroughly credible. In fact, all the teen roles in the movie are performed with great aplomb and professionalism. Chris, with his honest, but steadfast support for Starr, displays a sober Christian attitude, and Hailey, as Starr’s naïve ideological foil completely owns her role.
Based on a young adult novel by Angie Thomas, who co-wrote the screenplay, THE HATE U GIVE is certainly a brave new attempt at dealing with a tragic phenomenon in American society that already has claimed the lives of too many young people. MOVIEGUIDE® hopes that in the future more screenplays like this are brought forth with a razor-sharp commitment to instruct, as well as heal the open wounds in honesty and Christian love, rather than with hidden agendas and hate.