Review: The Hate U Give
(M) Amandla Stenberg, Russell Hornsby, Regina Hall, K.J. Apa
It may be marketed as a teen drama but The Hate U Give, is an educational film that we all need to take notes from. Tackling topics of police brutality, the black lives matter movement, neighbourhood gangs and identity, this film is hard-hitting.
Based on the 2017 novel of the same name and penned by Angie Thomas, The Hate U Give follows 16 year old Starr (Amandla Stenberg) as she navigates two worlds. First, there is Starr who lives in Garden Heights a predominantly black neighbourhood which is run by a drug gang. Then there is Starr who attends a predominately white high school, who doesn’t use slang so she doesn’t get labelled “ghetto” and has a white boyfriend Chris (K.J. Apa).
After witnessing her childhood best friend (a young unarmed black man) being shot by a white police officer, her worlds collide and this time she can’t be silent or blend into the background.
Starr’s father Maverick (Russel Hornsby) is prominent in helping her find her voice. Maverick continually tells his kids that there is power in the names that he has given them. For Starr, her name represents a light in the darkness. Her older brother is named Seven, after the number of completeness and perfection in the Bible and her younger brother is named Sekani, which means joy.
Amandla Stenberg (The Darkest Minds) gave a stellar performance, embodying Starr, and shining through just as the name suggests. Her performance carries the film, making the audience feel every conflict both external and internal of Starr’s journey. Russel Hornsby is also a standout portraying the strength and vulnerability of Starr’s father in the way the character changes his own life as well as how he empowers his children to know and fight for their rights.
The Hate U Give doesn’t shy away from showing the intricacies of gang wars in communities and the effects of heavy police presence or confronting friends, as Starr did, about their own understandings of privilege. As Starr explained that you don’t have to say the ‘N’ word to be racist. The film also seems to question the protests and the rioting that can follows; does it really making people listen or is just escalating that violence and anger or both?
There is poignant scene between Starr and her police officer uncle (played by rapper and actor Common), where he tries to explain the complexities how he relates to the white officer who shot her best friend. It shows a cycle where demonising each other means that tensions lead to this sort of violence to escalate. It also highlights the engrained prejudices that we have in our own communities despite coming from the same backgrounds or ethnicities.
The book, film and title is not only influenced by the black lives matter movement but also legendary rapper Tupac Shakur’s motto and thinking around T.H.U.G L.I.F.E, which stands for “The Hate U Give Little Infants F**** Everybody.”
The hate we teach our youth creates the very scenarios of tension, anger and violence that tears our society apart. Once you keep thinking and treating a certain group of people as a threat then they become that threat.
Tupac (aka 2Pac) was a poet, rapper and activist and his mother was a former Black Panther. He was shot multiple times after leaving a Mike Tyson boxing match 7 September 1996 and died six days later from his injuries—the shooter was never found. His message is as relevant today as it was more than two decades ago and not just for African Americans but the way we treat each other across the globe.
The Hate U Give asks, what anger, what hate are we feeding each other?
It challenge us to lift ours heads out from the sand and to think further than it’s just ‘us vs them’. To do life differently—differently and with love, to break that cycle. Sounds a bit like Proverbs 10:12 or 1 John 2:9.