‘The Hate U Give’ Film Review: Teen Drama Unflinchingly Examines Racism

Read on: TheWrapTheWrap.

In 2015, The New York Times posted a video called “A Conversation with My Black Son,” which discusses the fact that black parents in this country have to talk to their children about what to do and how to act when pulled over by the police. “The Hate U Give” begins with that same talk, as Maverick (Russell Hornsby, “Fences”) and Lisa Carter (Regina Hall) explain to their tween son and daughter that they are to put their hands on the dashboard, fingers spread, and answer all of the officer’s questions politely and directly.

It’s very practical advice when several years later, teenage Starr (Amandla Stenberg) sees a childhood friend shot and killed by a cop when the policeman mistakes the victim’s hairbrush for a gun. But even before this tragedy occurs, that opening scene makes its presence felt throughout the entire film. “The Hate U Give,” adapted by Audrey Wells (“Under the Tuscan Sun”) from the popular YA novel by Angie Thomas, often has the trappings of a teen movie — stolen kisses, prom dates — but the threat of random, uncontrolled violence at the hands of the police weighs down on everything.

That opening speech put a knot in my stomach for the entire running time of the film, and while that knot is a pale approximation of the ongoing PTSD many black Americans experience as a result of racial discrimination, the film’s narrative power is such that what could have been merely a message movie is something larger, an empathy-driven family drama about people living in a fractured country that is all too recognizable.

Watch Video: Amandla Stenberg Gets Woke in ‘The Hate U Give’ First Trailer

The shooting affects Starr in many ways, mainly by forcing a collision between the two worlds she travels through by constant code-switching. At her exclusive (and mostly white) prep school, she’s “Starr 2.0,” shrugging off casual racism, being overly pleasant and amenable, and never using any slang that a rapper would. At home in her working-class black neighborhood, she hides in plain sight in a hoodie and has no real intimate friends outside her family, although she does hang out with Kenya (Dominique Fishback, “The Deuce”), the half-sister of Starr’s half-brother Seven (Lamar Johnson, “Kings”).

Kenya takes Starr to a party where she runs into her old pal Khalil (Algee Smith, “Detroit”). As children, Starr and Khalil pretended to be “Harry Potter” characters, but now he’s supporting his addicted mother and cancer-stricken grandma by dealing drugs for King (Anthony Mackie), a local crime lord. When a fight breaks out at the party, Khalil whisks Starr out for a drive, but when they get pulled over and Khalil gets shot, she’s the one witness to the murder. Does she testify, jeopardizing her best-little-girl-in-the-world status at school and drawing King’s ire upon her and her family? Or does she remain quiet, allowing Khalil to be just another unarmed black teenager cut down in his prime without consequence?

Also Read: ‘Hate U Give’ Star Amandla Stenberg on Impact of Co-Star Kian Lawley’s Firing for Old Racist Clip

This isn’t a “who do I take to the prom” dilemma, and director George Tillman Jr. (“Notorious,” “Soul Food”) understands the ramifications of Starr’s plight, from police harassment of her family to the fact that her school friends (including K.J. Apa of “Riverdale” as her boyfriend) don’t always know what to say or how to respond to the shooting. (At one point, her classmates stage a walkout to protest police violence, but they mainly treat it as an opportunity to cut class.)

And while so many movies about race operate in a way to make as many viewers as comfortable as possible — usually by setting the story safely in the past, and presenting racism as the acts of select mean people rather than the result of endemic, structural, institutionalized oppression — “The Hate U Give” doesn’t provide that level of comfort. (Apa’s well-meaning character, while mocked for actually saying “I don’t see color,” is ultimately presented as not beyond redemption.)

Also Read: Kian Lawley Fired From Fox’s ‘The Hate U Give’ After YouTuber’s N-Word-Laced Clip Surfaces

“The Hate U Give” is one of the most emotional viewing experiences I’ve had in a long while, but it’s by no means a perfect movie. The big climax is overplayed, and the movie wants to eat its cake and have it too when it comes to the police and the prison system, opting for a compromise stance that will probably please neither the #BlueLivesMatter crowd nor those calling for more radical reforms of the criminal justice system.

These elements are far overshadowed by the film’s many triumphs, from the unilaterally excellent cast — Stenberg, Hall and Hornsby are heartbreaking, and Smith charms us with a character we only just get to know — to the sense of zeitgeist that permeates every frame. We’re universes away from the sanitized suburbia of so many adolescent dramas; this feels like the world outside our windows, with the same stakes and dangers.

This certainly isn’t the first movie to tackle the subject of police shootings; in recent years, there have been noteworthy narratives (“Fruitvale Station,” “Monsters and Men”) and hard-hitting documentaries (“Whose Streets,” “13th”) on the subject. But “The Hate U Give” is opening on more screens, and aiming younger, than anything that’s come before it. It’s powerful, provocative and devastating, blending the incisive power of dramatic emotion with the immediacy of the evening news.



Related stories from TheWrap:

‘Where Hands Touch’ Film Review: Amandla Stenberg Packs Emotion in Earnest Holocaust Drama

‘Monsters and Men’ Film Review: Timely Race-Based Drama Centers on Controversial Killing

37 Fall Movies to Obsess Over, From ‘Halloween’ to ‘Mary Poppins Returns’ (Photos)

‘Support the Girls’ Film Review: Regina Hall Uplifts Observant Workplace Comedy

Jamie Foxx & Joseph Gordon-Levitt Netflix Sci-Fi Movie Finds Female Lead In ‘The Deuce’s Dominique Fishback

Read on: Deadline.

EXCLUSIVE: Netflix’s untitled sci-fi movie from Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman starring Jamie Foxx and Joseph Gordon-Levitt has set Dominique Fishback as the pic’s female lead. The pic’s plot, written by Mattson Tomlin, is being kept …

Alex Wolff, Dominique Fishback to Receive San Diego Festival Honors

Read on: Variety.

Alex Wolff and Dominique Fishback will be honored at the San Diego Intl. Film Festival, while gala presentations will include Yorgos Lanthimos’ “The Favourite” and Joel Edgerton’s “Boy Erased.” The fest, produced by …

‘The Deuce’ Showrunner David Simon Tells Jack Dorsey To “Drop Dead” In Wake Of Twitter Lockout – ATX

Read on: Deadline.

David Simon and his producing partner Nina K. Noble are known for groundbreaking dramas that shed light on institutional dysfunction and pressing social issues in very different areas of the country. That being said, he has some opinions about the Dona…

‘Night Comes On’s Jordana Spiro Talks Creating “A Story With A Very Strong Female Protagonist” – Sundance Studio

Read on: Deadline.

Ozark actress Jordana Spiro is marking her feature directorial debut with the film Night Comes On, which is making its world premiere in the NEXT section at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. The pic follows Angel LaMere, who is released from juvenile detention on the eve of her 18th birthday. Haunted by her past, Angel embarks on a journey with her 10 year-old sister to avenge her mother’s death.
On her approach to the project, Spiro said “the overall process of the…

Patrick Fugit Joins Damien Chazelle’s ‘First Man’; ‘The Hate U Give’ Casts Dominique Fishback

Read on: Deadline.

Patrick Fugit has landed a role in Damien Chazelle’s upcoming Neil Armstrong biopic First Man, joining Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy, Pablo Schreiber, Jon Bernthal, and Kyle Chandler. Based on James R. Hansen’s book, the film follows Armstrong’s journey to the moon. Universal, who is co-financing the film with Amblin Entertainment, has slated a theatrical release for October 12, 2018. Fugit will play Elliott See, a flight test engineer and NASA astronaut who was killed in a…

Times Square seediness makes The Deuce another can’t-miss prospect from David Simon

Read on: The A.V. Club.

In The Deuce, his latest examination of social ecosystems in this country, David Simon takes a typically granular and decidedly unglamorous look at the legalization of pornography in 1970s New York. The drug-slinging game of The Wire has been replaced with prostitution, a business with every bit as expansive and…

Read more…