The Hate U Give Movie Review

The Hate U Give movie poster

There is this theory out there that young adult fiction doesn’t have to be about dystopian futures and children with magical powers. Crazy, I know. In fact, there are actually rumors that the genre can even be about serious issues. You know, like the cost of Internet or even—holy crap—race inequality in America.

The Hate U Give is a sometimes powerful, sometimes hokey drama about a black girl named Starr (Amandla Stenberg, who, ironically, got her big break in The Hunger Games) who lives in a predominantly black neighborhood but attends a nearly all-white private school, and in turn has two sets of friends and, in some ways, two lives.

She has a set of rules she abides by when with her white friends—namely, she wants to avoid the perception that she’s “the girl from the ghetto” and thus avoids sharing certain aspects of her life. This includes not telling any of her friends or even her seemingly perfect white boyfriend that she just saw one of her black friends get gunned down by a white police officer for holding a hair brush.

Based on the book by Angie Thomas, The Hate U Give has a lot of striking things to say about the dichotomy between white lives and black lives. Initially aimed at a teen audience, it is also burdened by a lack of nuance or even common sense.

As with many young adult stories, The Hate U Give draws stark lines between perception and reality, good and bad. Decisions are either all-in or not at all, characters designed to make a point or help clarify the story’s themes. This works for a while—Starr’s narration about how she acts differently around her white friends, and lets them say things that technically could be perceived as racist, is effective and should be thought provoking for all ages, especially for kids still in school who are growing up in an ever more diverse world. The depiction of the shooting is hard to watch, and Stenberg is excellent and conveying her character’s internal struggles. Undeniably the film’s heart is in the right place.

But as things progress, The Hate U Give gets weighed down by what I assume is its source material. If Starr’s white friends are indeed her friends, why is it never even considered to discuss what she’s going through with them? And she wouldn’t even tell her boyfriend? These decisions seem contrived to amplify the drama, which may work in a book but feel forced in a film that wants to be taken seriously. Further, the fact that the story has a villain—a gang leader played by Anthony Mackie, who of course is Starr’s father’s ex-boss and father to her best friend because why the hell not—seems wholly unnecessary and distracts from the core messages of the film.

The Hate U Give is pretty good, for a while, but it wears its young adult source material on its sleeve—and not in a good way. Its lack of nuance makes it hard for adults to fully engage with the otherwise powerful themes it explores, a shame considering how effective it could have been.

Maybe next time the issue of race should be explored in a dystopian future.

Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.

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