By Mark Saldana
Rating: 4 (Out of 4 Stars)
2018 has already given us three great films which deal with the African-American experience: Sorry To Bother You, Blindspotting, Blackkklansman. Going into this film based on a young adult novel, I began to wonder if cinema had a fourth to offer. The answer is an empathic yes! Not only is The Hate U Give quite possibly the best film of the year, it is definitely the best movie based on a YA novel. While the movies I mentioned above do deal with the Black American experience, their scopes are more narowed down to certain specific aspects of adult life. This movie encompasses so much about what is wrong with the United States and the treatment of its Black people, as told from the perspective of a young African-American teen.
Amandla Stenberg stars as Starr Carter, a high school teenager living in the ghetto with her loving parents and siblings. Though Starr lives in a rough neighborhood plagued with drugs and gang violence, her parents Lisa (Regina Hall) and Maverick (Russell Hornsby) have worked hard to send her and her siblings to an exclusive private school. Though she’s had one particularly traumatic experience in her neighborhood, she has otherwise remained safe and mostly free of the ugliness in her hood. Her life completely changes, however, after she witnesses, first hand, the killing of her friend Khalil (Algee Smith) by the gun of a police officer. While coping with the aftermath of this incident, Starr’s eyes are opened wide to the realities of her world and culture.
Based on the novel of the same name by Angie Thomas, The Hate U Give is one of the most powerful and emotional films of the year. With an adapted screenplay by late writer Audrey Wells, director George Tillman tackles Black America with a heavy wounded heart and hopes to open people’s eyes to the truth. Presenting this heart-wrenching story through the eyes, ears and mouth of a young Black teenager gives it much more weight than other films with similar themes. The audience follows the life of Starr from young childhood to her teenage years, as she discovers not only the realities of her neighborhood, but also the treatment of her culture by people of different races and ethnicities.
Witnessing Khalil’s death first-hand serves as a major wake up call to Starr, but this slap to the face is only the beginning. Starr learns so much more as she experiences the reactions from everyone in her life. The film serves as a truthful testament to the value of life and a brutal reminder that our nation still has a long way to go before prejudice and racism no longer exist.
As a director, Tillman takes a no-frilks approach and allows the excellent script to come alive organically. It certainly helps that he had a truly incredible cast to keep it real. As Starr, the lovely and talented Amandla Stenberg gives a phenomenal performance full of emotion, strength, and passion. Russell Hornsby gives an equally excellent turn as Starr’s father Maverick. The amazing Regina Hall shines once again as Starr’s mother Lisa, another example of strength and love in her life. The film also can boast praise-worthy acting by Common, Anthony Mackie, KJ Apa, Algee Smith, Lamar Johnson, and Issa Rae.
On one hand, it really pleases me that African-American filmmakers and storytellers have voices in cinema and literature to express themselves. On the other hand, it breaks the heart that most of their stories involve racism, oppression and violence. With all of the films that express the pain and suffering of Black Americans, and the multitude of news stories reflecting these harsh realities, what is it going to take for real changes to occur? Until that day comes, both news and fiction will remain as painful reflections of the evils and ugliness that human people inflict on one another.