TIFF 2018 Review: The Hate U Give is Heart-wrenching, Poignant and Raw.
The Hate U Give is based on a young adult novel of the same name. The film stars Amandla Stenberg as Starr Carter, Russell Hornsby as her father Maverick, and Regina Hall as her mother, Lisa. Starr lives in Garden Heights but attends Williamson High School because her mother wants her to have the best education possible. Williamson is a white school, but Starr does her best to fit in. One evening, Starr attends a local party in Garden Heights where she meets up with Khalil (Algee Smith), an old friend that she hasn’t seen in a while. They leave the party and get pulled over by the cops. While standing outside the car after being ordered to do so, Khalil goes to reach for his hairbrush and is shot dead. This tragic incident changes Starr’s life forever as she is now put in a position where she must decide whether or not she should testify as a witness to Khalil’s unlawful death.
When I saw the trailer for The Hate U Give, I remember thinking to myself, “that looks powerful” and now having seen the film, “powerful” is a massive understatement. The Hate U Give is the type of film that has the potential to ignite social change. The story, the characters, and the settings are all authentic and presented in such a way that is not at all glamorized. Garden Heights might be a fictional town, but there are at least a hundred towns in the United States that are just like it. The same can be said about every single one of the characters in this film.
Director George Tillman Jr. does a fantastic job setting up Starr’s story and how she is forced in a lot of ways to live a double life. Films like Blackkklansman, Sorry to Bother You, and now, The Hate U Give all address how black people must act differently around white people. Throughout the film, we watch Starr interact with her classmates and see her having to change her speech to fit in as a way to not be viewed as the other. This is something that rings very true to life, and I am glad that the film highlights this issue among many others.
I grew up in a mixed race household and have four brothers who are black. I helped raise them and watched them grow. Throughout the years, I have seen how they were treated amongst teachers and students in areas of Pennsylvania that are primarily white. It is incredibly eye-opening seeing how each of my brothers has been treated in middle school and high school because of the color of their skin and how they talked. White people often try to act like they understand what it is like being black but as someone who grew up seeing racism first hand, no white person, including myself can truly understand what it is like to be judged the moment a person walks into a room because of their skin color.
The Hate U Give tackles a lot of heavy topics but somehow manages to handle all of it with such honesty and care. The way that the film embraces the harsh reality of police brutality and how police officers tend to be more trigger happy amongst those in the black and more impoverished communities is incredibly hard to see, but it is sadly a harsh reality. There is a scene near the end of the film where Starr decides to use her voice as a weapon instead of a gun. This scene is so chilling and how it plays out is sickening to watch. The film paints this heart-wrenching portrait of what life is like for a family that is trying their very hardest to live the best life they possibly can.
Amandla Stenberg’s performance is one for the record books. I have seen most of Stenberg’s films and have been anxiously waiting for the role that would make her a household name. This is that role. Stenberg embraces the material and delivers a performance that is nuanced, powerful, and raw.
We see throughout the film that Starr is a teenager who was forced to deal with a lot in her life from a very young age. Growing up her best friend was shot dead in front of her very eyes and her father was part of a gang and even did some jail time. Stenberg conveys so much emotion in this performance that you can’t help but often cry because of the pain that she must have felt. She will have you smiling one moment and crying the next. As I said, this is some next level acting from the talented young actress and I hope this role opens many more doors for her. Mark my words, this Stenberg is destined to become a leading lady in Hollywood.
Alongside Stenberg is a fantastic supporting cast that includes Regina Hall, Russell Hornsby, Anthony Mackie, Common, and Issa Rae, among many others. While there is not a single weak performance in the entire film, I need to take a moment to make mention of Russell Hornsby’s performance because it is so captivating. The film opens on a scene where his character Maverick is at the table and telling his kids how they need to act if they are ever pulled over. This opening scene really sets the tone for the rest of the film. Hornsby’s performance as Maverick is multi-faceted as he has led a very difficult life and is has experienced things that have forever changed his life.
The Hate U Give might be based on a YA novel but this film speaks to those of all ages. The themes being explored are very much a reality and ones that should spark a conversation. I applaud everyone involved for bringing this story to life in a way that is honest and authentic. I cannot the remember the last time that I was this emotionally impacted by a film. I found myself constantly holding back tears from the moment the film began until it ended. The Hate U Give is currently close to the top of my list as one of my favorite films of 2018
Scott ‘Movie Man’ Menzel’s rating is a 10 out of 10.