Right from the opening frame, The Hate U Give lets you know what kind of movie it’s going to be.
The camera pans into a family’s kitchen, and the two young children seated at the table are being given “the talk” by their concerned parents. “The talk,” for those unaware, is a discussion black parents have with their children about how to deal with the police, and how to conduct themselves in interactions with law enforcement officials.
Given the recent tumult in the U.S. in regard to the fatal shootings of young black people — Philando Castile, Tamir Rice and Trayvon Martin among them — it’s resonant, to say the least. The names of the fallen come up frequently in the movie, as they should, since The Hate U Give expertly depicts what it must be like to live as a black teen in today’s culture.
Is the movie intense?
Very. Based on the book of the same name, The Hate U Give follows the aptly named Starr Carter (played amazingly by Amandla Stenberg) as she navigates a thin line: her parents (the always excellent Regina Hall and a particularly impassioned Russell Hornsby) pay top dollar to send her and her brother to a private school outside of their community. At the school, Starr feels like she has to act a certain way to get by, but when school’s out, she can be her real authentic self at home and with her friends.
On top of that immense discord, Starr also has to cope with the severe trauma of being a witness to her friend’s murder at the hands of the police. The majority of the film is spent examining Starr’s coping with the incident, and how the community around her reacts.
How much does the movie deal with black-white relations?
It’s the undercurrent for the entirety of the film. Starr’s school is private, but also majority white and privileged students, so she feels pressure to act “white” to fit in. She even has a white boyfriend (an oddly cast K.J. Apa), much to the chagrin of her father. When she gets home from school, she can truly become herself, and when she reconnects with old friend Khalil (Algee Smith) at a party in her neighbourhood, the familiarity is second nature.
Khalil’s death is the cinematic equivalent of a firebomb, and it sets the movie alight. The roadside stop scene is one of the most heart-racing in recent memory, and the realization that things like this are happening every single day across North America is nauseating.
Does the movie have any weak points?
Not really, other than its length, which is a touch over two hours. It’s very heavy material so it can be tough to digest it all, but it’s necessary stuff, especially for teenagers and others discovering their identities. In fact, it might behoove the youth of today to have this be mandatory viewing in schools — and hey, adults should be made to watch this too.
Led by Stenberg, who will undoubtedly receive award nominations come early December, the movie grapples with the concept of racial identity and how we’re all guilty of ascribing to certain ideas and outdated concepts. The world is at a tipping point, and we need to figure out how to make it better for everybody.
So what’s the bottom line?
An emotional and intense movie, The Hate U Give packs a punch from start to finish. Featuring outstanding performances from a stellar cast and a climax that’ll have you sinking into your seat, this isn’t a Saturday night at the movies. It’s a life lesson, an eyeopener for those of us who continue to insist that “things aren’t that bad.” They are, so it’s time to shut up and listen.
‘The Hate U Give’ opens in theatres across Canada on October 19.