by Philip Price
Director: George Tillman
Starring: Amandla Stenberg, Algee Smith & Regina Hall
Runtime: 2 hours & 13 minutes
“The Hate U Give” might come off as a perfectly-timed opportunity given the "Black Lives Matter" movement and the unfortunate, consistent headlines that tell us a young, unarmed black individual was gunned down by a white police officer, but fortunately, director George Tillman's adaptation of the Angie Thomas novel is not an opportunistic publicity stunt aimed at an audience who are already well-aware of the points the film is making. Rather, “The Hate U Give” is a well-rounded and appropriately angry piece of filmmaking that tells of both these types of crimes and the reasons for the feeling of need for movements such as "Black Lives Matter" in our country at the moment.
Tillman luckily has a strong grasp on the multiple themes and rather epic scope of his film as Audrey Wells' adapted screenplay weaves in a multitude of challenges that face the black community outside of discrimination. Whether it be police brutality or white privilege or more universal issues that have become more associated with being black than is fair such as drug abuse, drug-dealing, and a lack of the traditional familial structure, Tillman is able to take each of these strands and weave them into a coherent narrative that, while maybe tying things up a bit too neatly at the end, is most admirable for admitting it doesn't have all the answers, but instead making plenty of suggestions on how to spark change.
In the most evocative scene in the film Amandla Stenberg's (“The Hunger Games”) Starr, a young black girl who lives in a suburban ghetto, but attends a mostly white private school, confronts her uncle (Common), a black police officer who worked alongside the cop that shot and killed Starr's friend Khalil (Algee Smith) while she was in the passenger seat, to clarify just how disparate the lines of race have become in the worst of ways. It is in this scene that the film offers the point of view of the police officer as much as it does the suspect who was pulled over for what, at first, was seemingly nothing more than a routine traffic stop. The scene offers not only an explanation, but something of a justification for the white officer's actions from the mouth of a black officer said in earnest and with fairness. Starr's counterpoint is the underlying theme of every strand Tillman and the writers throw into the discussion though; that racism isn't wholly based in the belief of superiority but is more pointedly exemplified in the assumption that all members of a race possess characteristics specific to that race. If Khalil had not been a young black man in a predominantly black suburb, he would likely have never been pulled over in the first place.
The material is strong if not slightly overwrought in certain instances, but the cast elevates both the potent and the melodramatic. Stenberg is particularly great here and carries the weight of this heavy narrative on her shoulders with an effortless cool that might make even the richest of entitled yuppies jealous. The true revelation though, is Russell Hornsby as Starr's reformed father Maverick 'Mav' Carter. Hornsby is in this completely from the opening scene in which a young father sits down with his three children (and I mean children) to have "the talk," but-if you're like me (meaning Caucasian)-this probably isn't "the talk" you're thinking of, as Mav instructs his children on the proper precautions to take when pulled over or questioned by the police. This sad state of reality should strike a chord with any audience member not already sympathetic to the perspective represented in the film while the film goes the extra mile to show that it understands why these pre-conceived notions of black people exist, but ultimately stands to say that if police officers are allowed to make such assumptions based on prejudice then they should, at the very least, be held accountable for their actions under such presumptions.
It's sticky territory to get into and there are layers of factors to unpack and defend on both sides of the argument in any given set of circumstances. One would like to believe cops aren't actively targeting black communities, but it's also clear black communities are monopolized by illegal activity and preyed upon by drug dealers and gang members whose origins lie in this group of people having been repressed and treated unfairly for so many years that in the five generations since slavery was abolished the descendants of those slaves have only been capable of coming so far. “The Hate U Give” eloquently, but honestly portrays this struggle, attesting to the need to respond to hate with love in order for love to exist rather than for hate to spread.