Of course, a movie title that is a play off a well-known Tupac Shakur belief system would immediately catch my attention, but I soon found that The Hate U Give was so much more than that. A powerful adaptation of Angie Thomas’ New York Times Bestselling novel of the same name, the film uses Shakur’s T.H.U.G. L.I.F.E. acronym as the foundation to tell a multi-layered and nuanced tale.
The film opens around a dining room table where patriarch Maverick Carter, stoically portrayed by Russell Hornsby, is giving his children “the talk.” While most may think “the talk” is about the birds and the bees, for many Black families, “the talk” is about how to interact with police officers in order to return home safely. The tone of his speech sets the stage for this complex story of race relations, socio-economic status, and self-revelation.
The film follows the vantage point of Starr Carter, brilliantly played by Amandla Stenberg, who appears to seamlessly navigate between two worlds of her neighborhood in Garden Heights and the affluent predominantly white high school she attends. The viewer sees the Starr she is when around her family, and the “Starr 2.0” version that she presents when at school. Any person of color knows the balancing act and perils of “code switching” that takes place in corporate settings, at school, or anywhere we feel that altering our demeanor or language would benefit us. On the surface, Starr handles this pretty well until her childhood friend, Khalil, played by Algee Smith, is shot and killed by a police officer.
An all too familiar story unfolds of an unarmed Black male being killed by an officer who perceived the male as a threat. The film goes beyond what many see as the superficial steps taken after a tragedy like this happens: paid administrative leave for the officer in question, an internal investigation, a grand jury, and protests. While these elements are explored in the film, they are done so in a way that highlights the flaws and disservice in these steps. Almost every angle is explored in this process, from the family most affected by the life lost, to the community angered by police brutality, to well-intentioned authority figures hoping the system will work to provide justice, to unidentified or misuse of white privilege, to the stigma of snitching, all wrapped under the shadow of implicit bias.
The film is difficult to watch at times as well as being beautiful to witness. It is tough and brutally honest. I found that the messages in the film did not preach dogma, but rather held up a mirror to society for us to see ourselves at our best and at our worst. I shed more than a few tears while running through the gamut of emotions during this film. I cried tears of anger, frustration, sympathy, compassion, joy, and even hope. The film is just that real.
One of the highlights of joy for me was the portrayal of pure strength and leadership from Starr’s father, Maverick Carter. In no way is this man perfect, but he leads his family with truth. He doesn’t shy away from past mistakes but uses them as fodder to make the relationships with his children, wife, and community better. This character shatters every stereotype regarding Black men as absent fathers, unfaithful husbands, disengaged citizens, and unintelligent beings. Talk about #GOALS! He is also used to shed truth on the foundational beliefs of The Black Panther Party for Self Defense, whose reputation has been skewed and tarnished over the years. The film references their 10-Point Program, which advocates for education, healthcare, and the end to police brutality, among other things. Maverick uses the Panther’s 10-Point Program as a basis for teaching his children about their basic rights, and it is powerful how the film interweaves these messages.
I truly believe that this film needs to be seen by everyone, regardless of race or class. The film speaks to not only present-day traumas but offers a sense of hope for what our world could be if we take the hard steps to self-analyze and change. This stellar cast already has award-worthy performance buzz surrounding them. Every actor brings a realness to the screen that draws the viewer in and helps you to see life from their point of view. Noteworthy performances are also given by Common, Regina Hall, TJ Wright, and Issa Rae.
The film opened to a respectable $10.6 million at the domestic box office despite being shown on less screens as major heavyweight films released during the same time, such as Halloween and A Star is Born. Audiences seem to love the film, with a 96% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and an A+ score in an exit poll from CinemaScore.
My Reel Review for this film is 5 out of 5 stars. While I know that nothing in this world is perfect, this film is as close as can be in reflecting the many emotions, complexities, and struggles of race relations in America. As Issa Rae’s character in the film, April Ofrah states, “I refuse to let our blackness be seen as a weapon or a weakness!” And, that’s Reel …