Underestimate The Hate U Give at your own risk - sure, it may be a “YA film”, but the themes are anything but trivial and/or infantile. This is raw, pertinent, honest filmmaking that conveys an important message without ever preaching or speaking down to its viewers. While it may not go as deep as other films have, it is certainly a worthy standout in a year full of exemplary race-centric features.
The film primarily succeeds on the back of an incredibly well-cast ensemble. At the center of our story is Starr, an intelligent and compassionate young woman torn between two worlds - that of her poverty-stricken home environment and that of her upper class, primarily white high school. Amandla Stenberg wears her heart on her sleeve in this performance, portraying every single warring emotion Starr confronts as she faces daily identity struggles prior to the film’s major inciting incident. However, she truly comes to life in her depiction of Starr’s cyclical grief and rage after witnessing the death of her best friend Khalil by a police officer. She never allows Starr to become one emotion, and we can tangibly associate with Starr’s inner turmoil as she grapples with the idea of speaking up or staying silent. As a 19-year old, Stenberg is displaying an emotionally effective acting range on par with far-older peers, and she deserves endless accolades here.
The film’s other standout is Russell Hornsby as Starr’s father, Maverick. Whether he is giving his kids “the talk” about how to interact in a police encounter, coaching Starr through her grief, or passionately exclaiming about the importance of using one’s words for a change, Hornsby oozes authenticity and candor through every monologue. He far transcends the trappings of a typical “movie dad” role, and he is equally deserving of acclaim.
Some may take fault with a few familiar YA trappings that are indeed notable but don’t drag the film down as much as expected. The Hate U Give relies a little too much on voiceover in the first act (although it’s subsequently dialed down), and some of the teen-related subplots are far less engaging than the greater social debates of the A-plot, but as I said before, the film’s overall power and importance allow it to overcome these minor flaws.
Audrey Wells’ frank and sincere adaptation of the source material allows our characters to feel three-dimensional and frequently highlights the gray areas in seemingly black/white issues of police brutality and unarmed shootings. This is weighty stuff, and some may wish for more insight, but it’s hard to deny that it’s all delivered in a powerful and palatable manner for audiences, and it’ll certainly leave quite the impact as they leave the theater.
If more YA films can aim as high as "The Hate U Give" and additionally deliver on their thematic promises as well as this film does, there may be hope for the genre yet. We desperately need more diverse perspectives on societal issues and more analyses from youth - the future of our nation - as well. I hope more movies venture out with open hearts and open ears to experience the message of The Hate U Give and feel as inspired to be a part of the change as I was. I'm going to give "The Hate U Give" an 8 out of 10.