I always hope that drama can enable people to experience stories that change their point of view in a way that statistics and arguments cannot. Maybe that’s asking too much of a movie, but The Hate U Give is the kind of movie that can change hearts and minds.
Starr (Amandla Stenberg) is riding in the passenger seat when her friend Khalil (Algee Smith) is pulled over by a white cop. Starr’s parents gave her The Talk about cooperating with police and she tries to instruct Khalil. But, Khalil picks up a hairbrush and the officer shoots him dead.
It would be enough if The Hate U Give was a drama about the epidemic of police shootings, but it is so much more than that. It is about black families, it is about white allies (real ones and fair weather ones), black cops, activism and just growing up.
It’s asking a lot of Starr to speak out against Officer Mcintosh (Drew Starkey). That would put her at risk from other cops and from local gangs who want to go back to business as usual.
It’s also asking a lot of Starr to stay quiet. How can someone witness a death and hold it in?
Starr comes from a strong family. Her father Maverick (Russell Hornsby) empowers his three children while teaching them to stay safe.
Her mother Lisa (Regina Hall) will protect her first and foremost, be it from the media or the legal system. Privately, Lisa will empower Starr in her personal relationships, to forgive complicated friends or cut out toxic people.
The Hate U Give transcends the issues because of the legitimate dramatic tensions it explores. Both Maverick and Lisa are right. Starr deserves to fight for justice, and she deserves to stay safe.
Ultimately, Starr will decide and The Hate U Give shows her gradually claim her voice, step by step. She is scared, rightfully.
Whether she stands behind her phone camera, gives interviews or joins protests, it’s all brave and you see how scary her oppressors are (cops, gangsters, even classmates). Stenberg is a revelation exploring Starr’s bravery.
Along the way, The Hate U Give touches on every facet of the issues, organically within the drama. Just the idea that Khalil did not get The Talk is heartbreaking. He doesn’t understand the danger he’s in. If he did, he probably wouldn’t be so cavalier.
Khalil is not wrong though. The officer should tell him why he was stopped. The officer should be respectful until there’s cause to escalate. But if Khalil understood it was life or death he probably would have found a different way to protest the officer’s behavior.
No one is saying cops have it easy. Starr’s uncle Carlos (Common) explains the thought process of cops facing the unknown. That thought process, however, reveals biases and assumptions that favor white drivers.
It’s not a question of “either shoot them or get killed.” It’s “Why is shoot them the first option? What about all the other steps to de-escalate a situation before it comes to that?” And Carlos confirms drivers in wealthy neighborhoods get the benefit of the doubt.
At the funeral, activist April Ofrah (Issa Rae) leads what she hopes to be a peaceful protest. You can’t exactly teach angry people to be peaceful and non provocative so the cycle repeats.
Starr’s well meaning private school friends aren’t helping. Even before the tragedy, Starr puts on Starr Version 2 for her white friends so she can fit in. They love to use black slang and listen to rap but when Khalil is shot it gets too real for them.
It gets really insidious when Starr’s white friends protest to be “woke” but resist Starr’s comparisons to Emmett Till. It touches on the “hasn’t he suffered enough” sympathy for Officer McIntosh that pops up whenever a perpetrator tries to return having done minimal penance.
At the very least. Officer McIntosh still has his life. Khalil does not, so that’s not really a fair debate.
Starr’s boyfriend Chris (KJ Apa) is well meaning when he says he doesn’t see color, but he’s ignoring the different experiences of Starr’s life. He’s so proud of himself for his equality but he’s only putting on blinders for the harsh realities with which any other group lives.
As Starr suspected, they only liked Starr Version 2. The real Starr actually terrifies them, and the real Starr is only as emotional as they’re allowed to be without fear of being seen as “threatening.”
There are even elements in Starr’s own community that want to keep things volatile. The gang leader King (Anthony Mackie) is doing well keeping young neighborhood men dealing for him and making them targets for trigger happy cops.
King’s story is resolved a little conveniently, but it’s only the B story of the film. It’s not the big social picture The Hate U Give wants to address.
When it comes to those big pictures, they can’t fix everything in a movie. What The Hate U Give can leave viewers with is the hope to not give up, to keep speaking out. While the greater society is out of your control, you can recognize the cycle in your own family where you can intervene.
The people who most need to see The Hate U Give probably still won’t. While the drama of The Hate U Give probably won’t entice pro-cop people to experience someone else’s life and reconsider their perspective, there may be some undecideds who can experience it in a more visceral way than they hear on the news.
And this is a movie for people who want the police violence to stop too. Even if we can’t force people to hear what it has to say, The Hate U Give gives people a shared language with which to unite and fight oppression. If all it does is teach a generation of Starrs to use their voice, that alone would be profound.
The Hate U Give opens in select cities Friday, October 5, more on October 12 and everywhere October 19.