The Hate U Give opens with a young black girl and her brothers having a conversation with their parents. The parents are explaining to them what they have to do if they are pulled over by police. Hands on the dashboard at all times. Answer their questions but don’t embellish. Ask for us to be called. This is very important. And must be taken seriously. And the children see that and take everything on board.
In a voiceover, an older Starr (Amandla Stenberg) refers to this moment as having ‘the talk’. Because this is not the only family forced to have this conversation. It’s happening across America.
Jump forward a few years and Starr is now doing well at a predominantly white school further away from the black neighbourhood where she and her family live. She is one version of herself at school, we learn, with her white friends and her white boyfriend – and she is another version of herself when she’s at home. And in both worlds, we see, she is not quite complete.
When Starr is driven home by a friend over the weekend and they’re stopped by police, she knows what to do. Her hands go straight for the dashboard. She doesn’t talk back. She’s polite and clear. Her friend, however, is not. And, as he reaches for a hairbrush, the police officer thinks he’s reaching for a gun and fatally shoots him.
And Starr’s neatly divided worlds comes crashing down around her.
From the opening family conversation, to the justifications and platitudes for this hideous act, George Tillman Jr.’s The Hate U Give consistently proves that it is anything but showy. Tillman Jr.’s direction and Audrey Wells’s screenplay combine to ensure that there is context to every action and no character is left in two dimensions. Whether they’re a beacon of hope and all that is good, the ‘villain’ of the piece or somewhere in between, there is a story behind each and every one of them.
Amandla Stenberg’s performance as Starr is layered and nuanced and covers so much, from trying to balance the two worlds in which she lives to protecting her family and staying quiet or standing up and speaking on behalf of her murdered friend.
Stenberg is easily one of the brightest talents working in film today. Yet she is just one shining star in a sea of acting talent which includes the likes of Common, Issa Rae, Regina Hall and Anthony Mackie. Everyone around her, especially her family, are similarly incredible to watch. You believe them as a unit, trying so hard to have each other’s backs, to protect their own, but also to stand up and be proud of who they are.
The Hate U Give is a phenomenal powerhouse of a film – moving, engaging and incredibly bold, both in front of and behind the camera. But it’s also, unfortunately, entirely relevant. It’s necessary and it’s current. We see protests and signs being held up. Fights break out and people scream. Peaceful protests turn violent. And the whole time we’re rooting for Starr to find – and use – her voice. Yet we know, too, how often these voices fall on deaf ears. How often people do speak up and how often no action is taken. How these police officers are put on paid leave and never charged with even a minor misdemeanour. How often people say, ‘Oh that poor man and his poor family’ when the news reports that the officer has started receiving death threats but continues to talk only of the ‘crimes’ of the dead black man, with no mention of his ‘poor family’.
Make sure you see this film. Then talk about it. Then see it again. Or read the book on which it’s based.