It’s safe to say that anyone reading this review has heard of and memorized the names from at least one or two devastating killings of a black citizen by a white authority figure that sparked outrage. Rodney King, Oscar Grant (whose death inspired not only the film Fruitvale Station but the actual Hate U Give book), Michael Brown, Tamir Rice...You might have even witnessed one in the flesh. But it’s another thing to feel that could’ve been you, killed for the exact same reason: racial assumption of guilt, a fear I unfairly never had to grow up with. Issa Rae as April Ofrah put it best: “It’s the same story every time, just a new name.” When Starr Carter was nine, her father Maverick instructed her, her older half-brother Seven and one-year-old brother Sekani, at the same time, how to react, and how not to react, if pulled over by an officer. When she was that age, a friend got shot right in front of her, not by a police officer but the violence really made her fixedly conform. But one night, Starr and her childhood friend Khalil leave a late-night party together and are pulled over. Khalil ends up being cocky and his hairbrush is mistaken for a gun as he brings it out of the car while he’s leaning against the car per the cop’s orders. He’s fatally shot, and Starr is the only one who saw. Not only that, but woeful facts about Khalil start popping up, and Starr ends up under more pressure to either stay away from the spotlight, or dive right into it and endanger her entire family and community.
The gunshots in this movie reminded me of the 1967 Bonnie and Clyde, a film where the shots sound like pirateship cannons, and smoke that could come from the maximum of two cigarettes is at the end of the barrel, with no doubt a shot will shed bone and muscle forever if hit. Most blockbuster movies have gunshots that are loud but not lingering, or violent but give the idea of instant kicking-the-bucket instead of pain.
Look, police brutality and racism shouldn’t be a tricky subject. Starr sees it as completely straightforward: She and all her others are painted a certain way, preventing anyone outside of Garden Heights from giving them jobs good enough to feed and shelter their family, so they’re either seen as poor or drug dealing and as a result more likely to be up to something, more likely than a guy in a suit driving a Mercedes to pull out a gun if stopped by a police car. But the movie manages to also somehow bring more to the all-familiar excuse, with extra discussion that was tremendously risky to add. In certain media forms from certain mouths, the one who’d speak this would receive death threats before sundown. But the movie says, “Oh for f’s sake! We’re talking about it, period.” It was like it was going to prove itself to the world by not shying away or denying the even more controversial part of the conversation.
Making The Hate U Give into a movie was a great idea not just because its messages can now be in the hands of those who don’t like to read and on another entertainment platform, but also the experience of the actual book becomes a little heightened too. When all of Starr’s private school cuts class in protest of Khalil, Starr is angry about how all the white folk aren’t treating it like a tragedy, instead reveling in self-gratification and relaxation, not a care in the world, with rap and Black Lives Matter signs and smiles galore. I don’t remember these details in the book. This prevents anyone from thinking Starr was being cynical about this particular protest. It made me imagine what I would do if someone black who I wasn’t affiliated with died in my neighbourhood, and what I should do.
My favourite scene was one that I don’t remember being in the book. Starr loses it at school, almost like she was told to her face that she was responsible for Khalil’s death. She does something that makes someone else cry. The entire theatre was silent and gulping. I was shaking and almost cried too. I definitely felt the sadness. I was also innardly chanting “You go, girl!”
But what about its entertainment value, huh? Amandla Stenberg, who’s been in about half of the other YA adaptations around here and amazing in each one (The Hunger Games, Everything Everything, The Darkest Minds) is not unconvincing for a nanosecond, sad and scared and fed up and learning how yelling back is sometimes the right thing to do instead of cooperate. Common, Regina Hall, Russell Hornsby, wow, by the end of the movie it was almost like I personally knew the family for years. All the individual characters, not just the main ones, are a lot more rich and unforgettable, and the decisions bring a climax with a frightening and rebellious punch, which are two things that put me in the minority in not being too impressed with Selma or Boyz n’ the Hood because I thought they didn’t have those. I thought KJ Apa as Starr’s white boyfriend Chris could’ve brought a bit more emotion and rigidity to his performance, but he’s at least believable as someone compassionate and honest. Considering how Anthony Mackie’s not really as buff as some of the protagonists, I was worried he wouldn’t seem as believably fierce in comparison. But he holds his gaze just effective enough.
The time really goes by too quickly as well. We’re in awe of the amazing shots, like Starr bicycling through an overly groomed suburb street and the realistic looking streets of Garden Heights, and the familiar yet gruesome, half satisfying half scary fire bombings of police cars in the mid of the night.
Angie Thomas didn’t write The Hate U Give to make money; she did it to spread awareness. The movie has the exact same atmosphere, ready to roar. This is a film good and important enough to make me hard to imagine anyone who wouldn’t walk out of it at least thinking a little. Like "mother!", only more people are thinking about it in a good way.