Cases of police brutality in the United States, whether alleged or proven, have been consistently making news headlines.
For those of us living outside of the US who merely read about them from afar, they can feel like just another depressing headline appearing on our social media feed.
The Hate U Give, based on the 2017 young adult (YA) novel of the same name by Angie Thomas, paints a powerful, moving narrative of what goes on behind those headlines. One that will stop you in your tracks.
It starts off rather unassumingly, with a YA-movie vibe. We are introduced to 16-year-old Starr Carter (Amandla Stenberg), who is fully aware of the complexities that come with being an African-American teen.
She lives in Garden Heights, a predominantly African-American neighbourhood, but goes to school at Williamson Prep, a predominantly white private school.
“When I’m at home, I can’t act too Williamson. When I’m at school, I can’t act too Garden Heights,” she talks about carefully teetering between these two identities.
There’s also teenage romance in the picture. She talks about what it means to have a Caucasian boyfriend, Chris (KJ Apa), and the glares the interracial couple often receives.
Then there’s her African-American childhood friend Khalil Harris (Algee Smith) who she hasn’t seen in a long time. The two reunite at a friend’s party and immediately, sparks fly.
As a teen, all Starr needs to worry about right now is who does she actually want to be with – Chris or Khalil? But all that is about to change.
Just moments after reuniting with Khalil, he is shot dead when a white police officer mistakes Khalil’s hairbrush for a gun. Starr, seated at Khalil’s passenger seat, is the sole witness to the tragic incident.
From here on, The Hate U Give stops being a YA movie, or rather, the stereotypical perception we have of what a YA movie is.
The film serves as an educational tool, at least for me. I’ve come across terms like “race relations”, “police brutality” and “black lives matter” so often but this is the first time I truly understand what they mean.
I understand them not as just numbers and statistics but as people who have loved ones who care, who have dreams and ambitions to fulfil and who have complex back stories.
As the film progresses, it cleverly fleshes out the characters’ pains and motivations, which not only satisfies our curiosities but paints them as realistic people.
It also doesn’t shy away from explaining the nitty-gritty such as the legal processes involved when something like this happens.
All these elements come together nicely in a thought-provoking, well-written script.
Lead actress Stenberg has been earning rave reviews for her performance, and deservingly so. She manages to strike that delicate balance between her character’s maturity and youthfulness.
The rest of the cast deserve a lot of credit too, particularly Russell Hornsby, who plays Starr’s father. Hornsby’s portrayal of a father – who makes sure his children are prepared for every harsh reality life may offer – is inspiring and moving to watch.
There’s quite a bit of Oscar buzz surrounding the film but it’s too soon to make the call yet.
Still, Oscar or no Oscar, The Hate U Give is an important film that engages both the mind and the heart.
The Hate U Give
Director: George Tillman Jr.
Cast: Amandla Stenberg, Russell Hornsby, Algee Smith, KJ Apa, Anthony Mackie, Regina Hall