The opening scene of The Hate U Give is a parent giving his children The Talk. This is likely not The Talk you are thinking about. Maverick Carter (Russell Hornsby) tells his children how to behave if they are pulled over or questioned by the police. They are African American and the reality of their existence in America is that they need to know how not to get shot by a police officer. The scene is humane, heartfelt, and a little bit shocking to this white reviewer. It immediately announces the powerful and confrontation tone that director George Tillman Jr takes to this adaptation of Angie Thomas' best selling YA novel.
The Hate U Give routinely balances character and politics, often choosing to make sure the political nature of this story is front and center. The film follows Starr (Amandla Stenberg), a teenager who becomes the sole witness of a fatal police shooting of a young black male friend of hers, Khalil (Algee Smith). Khalil never got The Talk that Starr received. In the harrowing scene, she begs him to follow the policeman's orders. He reaches for a hairbrush instead and gets shot.
Khalil's death sparks a political uprising in Starr's community. Starr lives in two worlds. One is the prep school she attends full of mostly white students. The other is the neighborhood she lives in, predominantly black. The stark differences between these worlds are already apparent to Starr before Khalil's death. Afterward, she can no longer pretend to be able to live in both. The Hate U Give regularly shows how both communities react to the police shooting. Her white friends defend the cop who shot Khalil. Her black friends are ready to protest. When it becomes apparent to both that Starr witnessed the murder, she has to choose what to do.
One of the remarkable things about this film is that it balances a message film with a coming of age film rather seamlessly. Amandla Stenberg gives a star-making performance here as Starr. She is the reason the film is able to shift so deftly from high-school drama to protest drama. The whole cast is fantastic as well with a very stirring and emotionally resonant performance from Hornsby as her father.
The Hate U Give may sound like a rough watch. It does confront its audience and asks them to question many things they may think about race, justice, and police shootings. It is also a warm, funny and generally uplifting film. This is important because it allows the film to move you in multiple ways. I was both frustrated and hopeful by the end of it. I was also emotionally wrecked and yet energized by the film. Like its main character, the film balances these worlds it lives in.
The Hate U Give joins Blindspotting as one of the best films to deal with police shootings and the African American community. The film is accessible in all the right ways. Some may criticize its broad appeal but I think that is a major strength to the film.