A conversation about troubling issues can be difficult to have without rocking the boat. Perhaps you can vividly recall a moment where you chose to keep the peace when things weren’t right? Too often we are encouraged to maintain the status quo and adapt to some narrative in the name of safety or societal expectation. Whether you felt it’s time we #changethedate or your siblings skipped school to protest climate change, ‘The Hate U Give’ explores the journey of one young girl taking a brave stand—and in this case it’s against police brutality and racial inequality.
Based on the best-selling debut novel by Angie Thomas, this coming-of-age tale centres around Starr Carter (played by Amandla Stenberg), a black teenager who witnesses the shooting of her childhood friend Khalil (played by Algee Smith) and the impact the tragedy has on her and their community. Thomas drew inspiration for the novel from her life—as a child growing up in Mississippi, and her experiences in college during the rise of the #BlackLivesMatter movement.
The film opens in the suburban black neighborhood Garden Heights where Maverick Carter (played by Russell Hornsby) explains to his young children how to interact with police. He cautions them to be polite, yet hyper-vigilant, and not to give them any reason to cause harm. This key scene makes clear the reality of being black in the United States. The talk feels like a parent teaching you how to ride a bike or drive a car—like a familiar rite of passage, except this one showcases the inequality that many black people face. Maverick later praises and positively affirms his children with great aplomb. It’s one of the several heartwarming family moments that centre the Carter family throughout the film.
Starr maintains two distinct identities between her neighborhood and her elite private school and balances relationships with friends and family with ease, until a fight at a house party forces Starr and Khalil together for their safety in his car. They wax lyrical about life, their shared childhood love for Harry Potter and the eloquent musings of Tupac: The Hate U Give Little Infants F*** Everybody—a critique of the glamorised thug life that Starr and Khalil both wish to avoid.
A white police officer stops the two and requests Khalil to exit the vehicle. A small yet heated disagreement between the officer and Khalil, as well as Starr and Khalil, ensues. The innocent grab of a hairbrush in the car results in several direct shots, instantly killing Khalil. The mood intensifies and is immediately heart wrenching as she watches her dear friend bleed out on the street. The visual of Starr sobbing on the road and the gun shots seen from dash cam footage amplify the realness of the regrettable situation.
The aftermath of the shooting is noticeable in the shift of tone, mood, and perhaps most subtly, the lighting. Warm, golden tones present earlier on become bleak or cool. The Garden Heights community coming together to grieve and come to terms with the regretful loss of Khalil eventuate into something far bigger and explosive. Civil Rights Lawyer and activist April Ofrah (played by Issa Rae) comes to encourage Starr to testify in front of a grand jury, but in doing so, sets off the catalyst for an old and violent family feud that threatens her family’s safety, as well as her privacy. Her hesitation is valid in the sensibility of self-preservation but the hate given (so to speak) has no change to dissolve without interference. Molotov cocktails, fights and riots take place with mixed results, but the most gripping encounter occurs between Starr’s father, the police, the gang lords and her own brother. It is a confrontation that really shocks you to your core.
The events in the second half of the film are exactly the ones that Starr’s mother Lisa (played by Regina Hall) wanted to avoid. She withdrew them from their local school and enrolled them into Williamson Prep—a private academy in another part of town that is predominately attended by affluent white students. Numerous scenes make reference to the need for the children to self-regulate and adapt themselves physically and mentally, to exhibit the qualities of a model minority—specifically avoiding confrontation or calling people out for cultural appropriation. The issue of course is that confrontation is essential in tackling a problem, which can be easily ignored when keeping the peace is important. A particularly explosive confrontation occurs between Starr and her white friend Hailey (played by Sabrina Carpenter) regarding the usage of African American Vernacular English. The schism escalates further when Starr realises the colourblind nature of Hailey serves to exploit, and not support, her fight for justice.
The holistic view that Starr comes to realise is that you should take a stand and fight, to spread joy and give light in times of darkness. The film, for me, ultimately concludes that it is up to the next generation to establish societal change—and that’s a beautiful thing. ‘The Hate U Give’ is a tale of standing up for justice and not hiding yourself to suit the needs of others. The film encourages you to look within yourself, to build on your character and behaviours and perhaps even encourage you to take a brave stand of your own when you witness something that just ain’t right.
The Hate U Give is now showing in cinemas.