THE HATE U GIVE
Director: George Tillman Jr.
Screenwriter: Audrey Wells, based on the eponymous novel by Angie Thomas.
Runtime: 133 mins.
Australian release date:
Previewed at: Event Cinemas, George Street, Sydney, on Monday 21 January 2019.
The Hate U Give, based on an award-winning, best-selling book for young adult readers, is an in-depth examination of racism in the USA dressed up as a coming-of-age story about a teenage African American girl. If it is too ambitious and overreaches itself, it can at least be forgiven for having a red-hot go at a complex issue. It’s beautifully directed by George Tillman Jr., whose previous Australian releases were Notorious in 2009, about the rapper Notorious B.I.G., and 2015’s Nicholas Sparks romance drama The Longest Ride, proving he’s nothing if not varied in his choice of material. Of the book he has said, “I wanted to be the one to bring this story to life, and felt that my entire career was leading to this point where I can make this movie authentically.” It features a cast of well-known black actors from films and television (Common, Anthony Mackie, Russell Hornsby, Regina Hall, et al), who all excel in their roles, plus a young leading actress, Amandla Stenberg, who is destined for great things based on her nuanced performance here. She was good in The Hunger Games and The Darkest Minds but she’s thoroughly enchanting and totally convincing in this more true-to-life role as a 16-year-old student, and has definitely upped her game since those earlier films.
Right from the opening scenes the audience is immersed in the African American experience. A family is seated around a table preparing for the evening meal when the father, ex-gang-banger Maverick Carter, demands that the children listen carefully to ‘The Talk’ he is about to deliver. Unlike in a white family, though, it’s not about the birds and the bees, it’s about life and death – namely, what to do and say when you are (there’s no question of ‘if’) pulled over by a traffic cop. The kids listening are Starr (Stenberg), her half-brother Seven (Lamar Johnson) and her younger brother Sekani (TJ Wright), while mum Lisa (Regina Hall) looks on, and it’s a sobering scene. The parents are still living in a tough, working-class part of the city, refusing to move out of the ‘hood because their political beliefs tell them they should stay to make a positive contribution to the community, but wanting a better education for the children. Accordingly, the kids are being schooled at the mostly white Williamson Prep School, some distance away, instead of the local Garden Heights High School, where you only go “to get junk, high, pregnant or killed,” according to Starr. As a result, she has learnt to code switch, dividing herself into ‘white’ Starr and ‘black’ Starr, but she comes to the realisation that it’s impossible to live that way because she’s neither white enough for one nor black enough for the other. Getting a ride home from a party one night with her childhood friend Khalil (Algee Smith), the dreaded confrontation that her father warned her about occurs when a white policeman pulls the youngsters over and the subsequent tragic events force Starr to face up to who she truly is and find her voice.
The name The Hate U Give comes from the words of rapper Tupac Shakur, whose THUG LIFE concept influenced Thomas when she was writing the book. It stands for ‘The Hate U Give Little Infants F**ks Everybody’, meaning that, as co-producer Marty Bowen explains, “We reap what we sow. The damages we do to one another gets passed on from generation to generation. If we don’t stop hurting one another, future generations are going to have the same problems.” George Tillman adds that, in response to the large number of police shootings of young black people that have gained national attention in the US in recent years, he “wanted to make a film that feels modern for a young audience, but also for a universal audience that creates a dialogue about important issues about race, social justice, and identity in order to move towards peace and change.” He, the writers and the performers, have mainly succeeded in that aim with The Hate U Give. If, at times, it wanders down a street that feels overly familiar, bear with it because it won’t be long before you take a turn into uncharted territory.