The Movie Guru: Amandla Stenberg shines in powerful, emotional ‘The Hate U Give’
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What: “The Hate U Give”
Rated: PG-13 for mature thematic elements, some violent content, drug material and language.
Screenplay by: Audrey Wells.
Based on the novel by: Angie Thomas.
Directed by: George Tillman Jr.
Starring: Amandla Stenberg, Regina Hall, Anthony Mackie, Issa Rae and more.
Grade: Four stars.
“The Hate U Give” broke my heart.
I’ve spent a good hour now trying to come up with a different opening for this review, something that captures how incredibly powerful, timely, and emotional this movie is. The story of a young black teen whose friend gets shot in a routine traffic stop is still horrifically relevant, and a movie that explores the fallout on her and her community in such a deeply engaging way is almost a community service. It deserves to be a major part of this year’s Oscar buzz. It deserves more than that.
But every time I try to talk about the importance of this movie, I make it sound like some sort of hard-hitting investigative report that leaves you feeling sad and sick about the world. Or worse, one of those “significant” movies that we critics are always going on and on about that our readers all know is really code for “incredibly boring.”
So I’ll tell you instead that this movie pulls you into a world that too many of us have only seen as statistics before now. Based on the young adult novel of the same name, “The Hate U Give” is told from the perspective of Starr, a teenage girl who lives in a mostly poor, black neighborhood but goes to a rich, white private school. She lives a divided life, adapting her personality to fit into each environment, but everything changes after the shooting. Does she stay silent about what happened, or does she testify and risk her family’s lives to fight for what’s right?
Focus on humanity
In director George Tillman Jr.’s careful hands, Starr and her world come alive. We learn what it’s like to navigate in a community where the local drug kingpin is also your friend’s biological father, and drug dealing offers a shining hope of financial stability for neighbors who are clinging to solvency by a thread. Where a loving, involved father can also have a prison record, and the precepts of the Black Panthers help people cling to hope and strength in the face of impossible odds.
All of this sounds a million miles away to most of us, but Tillman and an amazing cast brings us right into the heart of it. One of the awful things about life is that humans have so much trouble seeing the humanity in people who aren’t like us, and when we do try to reach out we make the mistake of assuming their lives are exactly like ours. “The Hate U Give” does something much greater – it briefly lets us borrow a life that’s very different than the one most of us gets to experience.
I sobbed when Starr suffered loss, and was humbled by her strength when she found her courage. The chance to spend time with her, even though it was only a few hours, taught me lessons I won’t soon forget.
I encourage you to get to know her yourself. You won’t regret it.