the hate u give (review)

Trayvon Martin. Eric Gardner. Freddie Gray. These are just three of the names of black men who were killed by the police. The Hate U Give adds another name, although fictional, to the list: Khalil Harris. But in this movie, he isn’t just a name, he isn’t just a victim in a grainy video we see on the nightly news. He is a person, a human being, who had a family and loved ones.

One of those loved ones is Starr Carter (Amandla Stenberg). This movie is her story, one of finding her voice. The movie’s opening scene is simple but clear, with her father (Russell Hornsby) explaining to her and her siblings how to act around the police. This “talk” is heartbreaking because of the fact that it needs to be said at all. In five minutes, The Hate U Give separates itself from every other young adult novel adaptation and lays down the foundation for the rest of the movie.

Starr is caught between two worlds: her home in the dominantly black Garden Heights with her family, and her preppy white high school with her white boyfriend and basketball teammates. But when she witnesses Khalil’s unjust murder by a white police officer, her life is forever changed.

The Hate U Give puts Black Lives Matter at the forefront through Starr’s transformation into a young, proud, black woman who is ready to fight. As the movie progresses, her shock and sadness turns to frustration and anger, which builds and builds until it bubbles at the surface. Stenberg is a revelation. She carries the movie, and without her authentic, soul-baring performance, it would not work. In a look, Stenberg conveys Starr’s anger, fear, dread, and defeat. But she also shows her hope. Starr’s emotions are palpable and feel real—they are real for the families and friends of the real-life victims of police brutality—and can’t be denied.

The rest of the cast is also stellar. As Starr’s proud father, Hornsby stands strong in his morals and beliefs, guiding Starr while allowing her to make her own decisions. As Starr’s mother, Regina Hall couldn’t be more relatable in her love and worry for her daughter. Issa Rae portrays an activist who is pivotal in Starr’s decision to speak up for Khalil.

The Hate U Give makes a meticulous effort to paint a rounded and layered portrait of the world that Starr lives in. Garden Heights feels deeply rooted, a tight-knit community that stays together, even among gang activity. While the walls of her high school are white and slick and shaded with blue tones, her home is tan and yellow and red like the earth, like a place that you can always go back to.

But Starr is also challenged from multiple perspectives. As a cop, her uncle (Common) must explain the protocol that runs through officers’ heads, reluctantly admitting the systematic racism that is ingrained in the police department. Her friend from school, Haley (Sabrina Carpenter), represents the voice of people who say All Lives Matter (or Blue Lives Matter), who may claim to be inclusive and accepting, but either just don’t understand the meaning of Black Lives Matter, or don’t want to. And Starr’s boyfriend, Chris (KJ Apa), in his kind and lighthearted empathy, in his well-meaning but ignorant “I don’t see color” schtick, shows how white people (and anyone outside the black community) can listen and learn.

This movie forces the audience to watch—it dares us to look away, but we can’t. We can’t turn our eyes away from reality. We can’t turn away from the fact that the injustice onscreen isn’t a fabricated Hollywood creation—it is the reality of African Americans everywhere. This isn’t just entertainment, it’s life, and the gut punch of that realization makes the movie all the more impactful.

Before walking into the movie theater, I didn’t know that the title is taken from a famous 2Pac line: “The Hate U Give Little Infants F— Everyone,” or THUG LIFE. The Hate U Give drives this home. It is a story about black youth and the vicious cycle of all the hate and violence and death in the world only leading to more hate and violence and death. The movie doesn’t sugarcoat things or show a textbook Hollywood happy ending, but I left the theater with a feeling of hope. Hope that more and more people like Starr grow and learn to use their voice and the power they yield in our society.

The young generation that Starr is a part of is the generation that is leading the fight for justice and equality. Every young person must see The Hate U Give, but every person, period, should see it if they can — it’s real, simple as that.