THE HATE U GIVE Delivers Raw Emotion Despite Missteps

Poignant moments tempt the viewer to look beyond the film’s weaknesses

Told from the viewpoint of teen Starr Carter (Amandla Sternberg), The Hate U Give touches on themes of childhood friendships, code-switching, and police brutality. At times the production is clumsily heavy-handed, but what it gets very right are the moments of emotional depth and the day-to-day fear and wariness, the structural racism, that pervades Starr’s life and her community. The film is based on the best-selling novel by Angie Thomas, although it deviates from the book by leaving out certain characters and throwing in one or two unnecessary alterations (one large plot change near the ending had audience members at our preview screening shaking their heads and muttering, “but Tamir Rice…”).

Our first glimpse of Starr is a bit of foreshadowing as her father Maverick (Russell Hornsby, Lincoln Heights, Fences) instructs her and her half-brother Seven (Lamar Johnson, The Next Step) how to react if stopped by police. The chilling and fatal act of injustice that informs this work and causes Starr to question the identity she inhabits at her majority white school is the police killing of a childhood friend. Starr is the only witness, and we follow her through a harsh investigation process while she grieves for Khalil (Algee Smith, The New Edition Story).

It’s obvious from the overuse of narration at the start that The Hate U Give won’t be subtle — at least where production choices are concerned. The too-blue filtering used in Starr’s school scenes give them a chilly tinge, especially compared to the warm tones of her lower-income neighborhood, Garden Heights. Her code-switching performance, and later her reflections on how that diminishes her true self, already makes the stark contrast between the two environments evident enough.

The unevenness of the work is disappointing because there are things The Hate U Give does extremely well. As far as the cast, you have Hornsby and Regina Hall delivering phenomenally understated performances, grounding the film as Starr’s parents. Dominique Fishback (The Deuce), appearing as Seven’s sister and Starr’s friend Kenya, is almost exactly how I imagined the character while reading the book, and made me wish she had more screen time. The story as a whole takes trauma seriously, and thrusts the viewer into moments of such raw emotion that this critic cried more than a couple times.

As a fan of the book, it’s a bummer that this cinematic take — directed by George Tillman, Jr. (Soul Food) from a screenplay by the late Audrey Wells (Under the Tuscan Sun) — is such a muddle. When it hits, it really hits… but there are too many times The Hate U Give misses the mark.

The Hate U Give is in limited release this weekend in Austin, and opens nationwide Friday, October 19.

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