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article imageReview: ‘The Hate U Give’ is a vital picture in the cultural zeitgeist Special

By Sarah Gopaul     Oct 19, 2018 in Entertainment
‘The Hate U Give’ is a galvanizing film that depicts a young woman unexpectedly thrust into the centre of the Black Lives Movement.
Stories about inner city life are often about gangs or rising above one’s class to be better; but it’s not often a narrative finds a way to combine these aspects and portray a more realistic depiction of people from these neighbourhoods where those things are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Everyone is a product of their environment, but that doesn’t mean they have to accept, abide by or sink down to its lowest expectations. The Hate U Give creates the acronym “THUG” and is about “thug life,” but not the derogatory definition that’s pervaded and is most often associated with these tales.
Starr (Amandla Stenberg) is living a double life and she expends a lot of energy trying to make sure they don’t intersect. In the one, she attends a private school with mostly white kids that don’t have to walk through a metal detector before going to class. She has a boyfriend, avoids slang and does well in her studies. In the other, she lives with her parents (Russell Hornsby and Regina Hall) and two brothers in “the ‘hood” where King (Anthony Mackie) runs the streets and her father— and his former partner — tries to keep the streets at bay. However, when Starr witnesses a cop kill her childhood friend, it becomes increasingly difficult for her to keep her two worlds from colliding.
This is a provocative story that couldn’t be more pertinent to the current political and social landscape. As Starr faces pressures from both sides of the argument of whether she should testify, she becomes acutely aware that one option is safest for her and her family, and the other is best for a community desperate to finally get justice regardless of the victim’s history because in that instance, he was not at fault. The narrative begins with a powerful scene in which Starr’s father explains to his pre-teen children what to do when (not if) they encounter the law. Later, one of the most telling conversations in the film occurs between Starr and her uncle (Common), who is a police officer, about how that situation played out and if the results would’ve been the same had her friend been white.
The late 2Pac Shakur defined T.H.U.G. L.I.F.E. as “the hate u give little infants f*cks everybody” and this movie explores the truth of that statement. Hate, fear and misunderstanding are such powerful motivators, and they’re so easily passed from one generation to the next regardless of whether or not they’re founded. Moreover, it’s not only transferred within the home but also by society, which can be made to overwhelm or support the teachings of one’s caretakers. Starr suddenly finds herself in a position to witness the underlying negativity first-hand, as well as the positive forces that want to make sense of it all and work towards a resolution.
As is the case with many films tackling such an important subject, it gets a little heavy-handed as it nears the end and tries to drive its message home to audiences. Still, the top two-thirds of this movie is an excellent depiction of a reality that’s often over-simplified and has a lot of gray area. These themes are made real and relatable thanks to the outstanding cast that brings life to their characters and the script. Stenberg has the appearances of an ordinary teen, but the understanding of a mature young black woman, which imbues Starr with a strength that radiates from the screen. Every actor in this picture fulfills their role in drawing audiences into the narrative and putting them at the centre of this controversy/tragedy so they can empathize the conflict from the perspective of those at its centre. Consequently, George Tillman Jr.’s adaptation of Angie Thomas’s best-selling novel is empowering and encourages discourse on an important subject.
Director: George Tillman Jr.
Starring: Amandla Stenberg, Regina Hall and Russell Hornsby
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