The Hate U Give is a fairly significant achievement; its a film that deals with the modern racial climate while falling within the parameters of a YA audience. While I may not be the intended audience of young adults, it’s good to see a movie aimed at young people that has something to say, and for a film centered on a teenage girl, the film is able to capture an entire community and multiple perspectives very well. The synthesis of a serious racial drama and a YA novel clash at some points, but despite some structural missteps there are some powerful moments.
16-year-old Starr Carter (Amanda Stenberg) leads two lives, one in her all-black community where her father teaches her to be proud of her blackness, and one at her all-white private high school where she puts on a different facade. When Starr is witness to her childhood friend’s death at the hands of a police officer, she becomes the unwitting face of a movement as the death ignites passions and conflicts within her community.
Without a doubt, the film’s best element is its ensemble; every actor, even those with limited roles, feels natural and offers an interesting perspective, and although at some points the dialogue plays it a little on the nose, the acting is strong. Stenberg is clearly an actress we’ll be seeing for awhile, and she perfectly conveys the shock and horror of dealing with unimaginable events while also being a teenage girl who struggles with finding herself. The standout among the ensemble is definitely Russell Hornsby, who play’s Starr’s father; Hornsby’s character grows through our expanded knowledge of him as the film goes on, and he remains an inspirational and challenging figure throughout the film.
The issues in the film lie in its structure; its a really long movie, and doesn’t seem to have one clear climactic moment. There are many dramatic moments and statements made towards the end of the film, and while many of them are harrowing and emotional, the lack of one clear climax makes the ending a little exhausting. There’s also a sometimes jarring combinations of the YA genre with more serious moments; while its nice to have an awkward prom scene, and it does fit in well within the themes of the film, its placement within the dramatic epicenter of the film is awkward.
There’s a lot of good stuff here, but some side plots feel like they could’ve been minimized- in particular, Anthony Mackie’s role feels like an unnecessary and expanded element of the story. That being said, the film is ambitious, and despite some missteps the range of perspectives are all seen through Starr’s eyes. It’s often powerful, particularly at the end, and I’m glad that a film like The Hate U Give exists for young people. Grade: B