The Hate U Give offers an art-imitates-life narrative of a situation that’s all too familiar in minority neighborhoods frequented by white police officers.
As the film starts, former gangster Maverick Carter (Russell Hornsby) is giving his kids the all-important talk about what to do when they see police officers. His kids are young for the talk but this has grave importance in their Garden Heights community. We soon cut to a few years later where Starr Carter (Amandla Stenberg) and her half-brother, Seven (Lamar Johnson), are attending the Williamson Prep School well outside of their neighborhood. Sekani (TJ Wright) will surely go the same route when he gets older. Nobody could blame their mother, Lisa (Regina Hall), for the two siblings attending school some 45 minutes away from where they live. This is because their old school has fallen prey to gang violence and drugs.
Her Garden Heights friends know her as Starr Version One while Williamson peers see a completely different version. There’s a big difference between the poor neighborhood and the rich prep school. This all changes when one of Starr’s best friends from childhood, Khalil Harris (Algee Smith), gets killed by a cop. Unarmed nonetheless. Playing witness to a cop killing her best friend, Starr is under a lot of pressure on many fronts. Telling the truth also means placing her family in trouble because of drug lord King (Anthony Mackie).
It isn’t just that we see how Starr reacts. We see the reaction from all sides, including Williamson friends Hailey (Sabrina Carpenter) and Maya (Megan Lawless) as well as white boyfriend Chris (K.J. Apa). There’s a hint of racism of Hailey not being able to understand why Starr is affected this way. For example, Hailey is excited that school closes early because of a protest due to Khalil’s death. There’s excitement in not having to take a test or quiz but Hailey doesn’t react in the same way that Starr does. This is where their friendship begins to crack as we see Hailey’s true colors.
To put things simply, this is a powerful film. One–this is a film that should make white people question like myself question our privilege. Are we doing enough to stop this cycle of violence? Are we showing our POC friends that we care? As I was watching the film, I could not help but think back to viewing Whose Streets? last summer. I would say that this is the narrative version of that film.
The film may be based on a work of fiction but you’d have to be an idiot to not see the larger picture. None of this is more telling when Starr Carter takes her activism to a new level by posting photos of unarmed POC who were killed by police. Khalil Harris may be a fictional person but think of all the other unarmed people murdered for no reason. How do we stop this cycle of violence? Is it within these communities? What about those members of the police department? It has to start and end somewhere?
Perhaps the most unjustifiable thing about The Hate U Give is learning that Officer Brian Macintosh does not get indicted for the murder of an unarmed man. If you think this is a spoiler, then you surely have not been paying attention over the last few years. White cops killing unarmed POC shouldn’t get off without an indictment much less a trial. (See Cory Bowles’ scathing satire, Black Cop, for that matter.)
Led by a powerful performance by Amandla Stenberg, The Hate U Give has something to say not only about police brutality but the ways in which we respond.
DIRECTOR: George Tillman Jr.
SCREENWRITER: Audrey Wells
CAST: Amandla Stenberg, Regina Hall, Russell Hornsby, K.J. Apa, Issa Rae, Algee Smith, with Common and Anthony Mackie