The Hate U Give review: With The Hate U Give, the YA genre proves it has more to offer than just dystopian futures and brooding vampires with a story that directly address racial injustices faced in Black American life.
Amandla Stenberg (the new YA-girl on the scene following turns in Everything, Everything and The Darkest Minds) stars as Star, a 16 year-old girl raised in the poverty stricken slum of Garden Heights. Keen to give her a better shot at life, Star attends a suburban prep school, leading her to navigate two very different worlds. Those two worlds are suddenly thrown together however when she witnesses a white police officer shoot and kill her childhood friend Khalil (Algee Smith). Star struggles with her decision to stand up for what is right, as doing the right thing proves to have some very severe consequences.
The Hate U Give is very different from your usual YA-fare largely though its subject matter, but also through the intensity in which it tells its story. It doesn’t hold any punches as Star has to contend with forces on all sides coming from both her prep school and Garden Heights’ worlds. It is a very emotional film, often to leave you in tears in various stages, largely due to the fact that the drama here feels all too real, with many of the images being all to familiar from news broadcasts that occur far too often.
The subject matter itself provides a great deal of dramatic heft, but the manner in which the film explores the effect of the shooting on Star and her family also proves to be very affecting. Her mother and father, wonderfully played by Regina Hall and Russell Hornsby, are torn between protecting their daughter and letting her speak up for Khalil, as the latter will almost certainly put in her (and the family) in the crosshairs of the organised crime lords that control the slum. Star’s white boyfriend Chris (Riverdale’s KJ Apa) pathetically but kind-heartedly tries to navigate how he can help in such a racially charged situation. These are just a couple of examples of how well the film does to offer a range of perspectives on a very real situation.
And then there’s Star herself. Her arc is a fascinating one. She starts as a girl who has worked tirelessly to construct two different facets of her personality, switching them on depending on what company she is in. When this terrible event happens to her, she is forced to re-address the way in which she characterises herself, she digs deep and finds a side of herself that she didn’t know existed, one which doesn’t act in any way to please anyone, driven only by her desire to do the right thing. It is an empowering arc that is brought to incendiary life by Stenberg, in a suitably ‘star’-making turn.
Not everything works. There are some corny YA-tropes present that make a lot of the exposition feel very heavy-headed, namely a voice-over which often overplays its hand. The attempt to establish Anthony Mackie as the chief antagonist also feels quite heavy-handed and a little too broadly articulated, which feels out of sorts with the more well-rounded portrayals of over characters throughout the film.
These are relatively minor quibbles though concerning a film that packs one hell of an emotional wallop. This is a powerful and incredibly charged drama that carries the weight of its relevancy with grace and care, but is also rightfully angry that this is a story that has to be told in the first place. An important story that is told with passion and purpose, led by the fantastic Amanda Stenberg.
The Hate U Give review by Andrew Gaudion, October 2018.
The Hate U Give was reviewed at the 2018 BFI London Film Festival.