The Hate U Give movie review

Two weeks ago we saw The Hate U Give (Fox, October 2018; PG-13), the new film adaptation of Angie Thomas’s bestselling young adult novel. The story follows African American teenager Starr Carter, who witnesses a police officer’s shooting of her unarmed friend and must decide whether to speak out in the aftermath. It was an emotional viewing experience for both of us. Here are our thoughts after some time for reflection.

Shoshana: The Hate U Give is a book with lots going on (read The Horn Book Magazine review here). I loved it when I first read it, and appreciated that it didn’t oversimplify the complex social issues it touches upon. Many of the details have stuck with me (and it probably helps that I’ve been lucky enough to hear the eloquent author speak a few times, including when The Hate U Give won the Boston Globe–Horn Book Award for Fiction). Still, seeing the story onscreen makes it a little easier to follow the various strands of the plot and to witness and understand the disparate forces affecting Starr. Sometimes the contrast is almost comically absurd, as when we see the shallower concerns of Starr’s white prep-school classmates right after she spends time with those directly affected by Khalil’s murder. But sometimes it is deadly serious, and the movie makes it starkly clear why revealing her identity as the witness to Khalil’s death and the details of what she saw is such a difficult, dangerous decision for Starr.

The movie is full of impressive performances, including Issa Rae as Starr's mentor April, a determined activist who nevertheless gives Starr and her family space and support to make their own choices; and Regina Hall as Starr's mother Lisa, a mom whose first priority in a complicated situation is her daughter’s safety. But I was struck most strongly by Amandla Stenberg’s genuine, affecting performance as Starr. Starr is thrown into a traumatic and very high-stakes situation that those around her mostly find upsetting but, sadly, unsurprising. That doesn’t mean she’s a hardened adult, though. For example, there’s an extended take of her near the beginning of the movie when she first sees Khalil — a childhood friend from whom she’s drifted apart — at a party, and her expression captures a young person’s gleeful excitement. The world expects a lot of Starr, and we see her look much more serious in other moments as she grapples with those expectations. This scene in particular reminds viewers how young she actually is.

Cindy: Actor Russell Hornsby wowed me as Starr’s father Maverick. The screenplay emphasizes Maverick's support and protection of Starr, and Hornsby’s portrayal of the ex-gang member turned successful business-owner and family man was extremely powerful. Four scenes in particular stood out to me as top-notch depictions of the emotional roller coaster Maverick and his family experience: when he’s unjustly forced down on the ground by police in front of his family, when he has the kids recite the Black Panther Party’s Ten-Point Program on their front lawn, when he meets Starr’s white boyfriend Chris (played by K.J. Apa) for the first time, and during the movie’s climax. This was a performance, along with Stenberg’s, that will hopefully get some recognition come awards season.

One final note: Be sure to look out for the nice homage to the book’s cover in the opening credits and Angie Thomas’s excellent cameo during one climactic scene.

We need more commercial movies that center marginalized teens and show them dealing with the complex, real-world issues they face every day. (A lighter but still timely recent example of this is Love, Simon, an LGBTQIA+ love story that resonated with many viewers — including our former intern Melissa, who reviewed it here.) Including these films in our national discourse reinforces for audiences that we have a long way to go before we truly achieve equity — and gives viewers who already know that from experience a chance to see themselves reflected. The Hate U Give’s very raw and moving portrayal of an African American family dealing with police violence and its aftermath makes the unequivocal statement that #BlackLivesMatter, and will hopefully offer inspiration for viewers of all ages — and from all backgrounds — to take positive action for real change. Join the conversation by going to see The Hate U Give.
Shoshana Flax and Cynthia K. Ritter

Cynthia K. Ritter is managing editor of The Horn Book, Inc. Shoshana Flax is associate editor of The Horn Book Magazine.

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