A black teenage girl struggles with racial identity and tensions in “The Hate U Give,” directed by George Tillman Jr. (“Soul Food,” Men of Honor”).
Based off of the book by New York Times best-selling author Angie Thomas, the title is a nod to Tupac Shakur. The late rapper is credited with saying “Thug Life” stands for “The Hate U Give Little Infants Fucks Everybody,” addressing systemic racism and oppression.
This story of a young black girl’s life also explores racial issues in America such as police brutality, the drug trade, gang violence and the Black Lives Matter movement.
Starr Carter (Amandla Stenberg), lives with her father Maverick (Russell Hornsby), her mother Lisa (Regina Hall), her half-brother Seven (Lamar Johnson) and her little brother Sekani (T.J. Wright). The movie opens with Maverick lecturing nine-year-old Starr and her siblings about interacting with the police.
The movie jumps forward to Starr’s teenage years. Addressing both coming-of-age and current racial issues, Starr has difficulty embracing who she is and balancing her two worlds. She tries to separate her home in Garden Heights, a black neighborhood that struggles with poverty and violence, and Williamson Prep, the wealthy, mostly white school she attends.
“The Hate U Give” balances the portrayal of social and racial issues with the family’s loving, playful relationship. Light-hearted jokes — such as when Seven and Chris (K.J. Apa), Starr’s white boyfriend, argue over whether mac and cheese is a meal or a side dish — bring humor to otherwise dark and heavy situations. Moments like this add to the genuineness and honesty of the movie.
One night, Starr reunites with her childhood friend Khalil Harris (Algee Smith) at a party. After a fight breaks out and gunshots ring, the two flee together, but they don’t escape violence. On the way home, the pair is pulled over by the police and Khalil, an unarmed black teenager, is fatally shot by a white police officer.
After Khalil’s death, Starr doesn’t know if she should speak out on the issue, because she’s afraid for her safety and reputation at school. As Starr is learning to cope with tragedy, she’s also learning how to use her voice to help her community.
Rather than villainizing individual police officers, “The Hate U Give” draws attention to problems with the system as a whole. Starr’s uncle Carlos (Common) is a cop and tries to provide a police officer’s perspective on the situation. But during one of the movie’s protests, Starr says the problem lies in society’s inability to listen to black people. Starr tells her boyfriend — who says he doesn’t see color — if he doesn’t see her blackness, he doesn’t see her.
“The Hate U Give,” rated PG-13, was released nationwide Oct. 19.