Based on the New York Times YA best-seller of the same name, The Hate U Give is a new film that serves as a commentary on race relations in the modern-day United States.
The story follows Starr, a high schooler who witnesses her childhood best friend being shot to death by a police officer. Over the course of the story, she must decide whether to stay quiet or find her voice and stand up for what is right.
This is certainly one of the boldest films aimed at a younger audience to be released in a long time. Not many movies that come out for teenagers have such a deeply important message at their core. For this alone, the film is admirable. Most thought-provoking movies about this subject matter are too complex or simply won’t hold the interest of younger audiences. That is not the case with this movie.
That being said, this does come at a cost. Even though the film does discuss these themes in a way that is palatable to younger audiences, it must sacrifice complexity in so doing. This movie should instead serve as a conversation starter— a way to introduce the theme so that other, more sophisticated films (or even discussion of real-life events) can become more accessible to these younger viewers.
The movie is very successful at creating an emotional connection with the characters, which will significantly help the film land with younger audiences. The protagonist, Starr, is very well-rounded and sympathetic. Some of the supporting characters, such as Starr’s father and older brother, are also well-developed and add more emotional depth to the story.
Additionally, the movie manages to be gripping despite its relatively long runtime for a teen-focused film. A significant part of this lies with the movie’s ability to create suspense. There were plenty of sudden turns in the tone of the film that keep you on the edge of your seat. Another factor is the comedic relief. This keeps the story from being entirely draining.
However, the movie includes some extraneous subplots that felt contrived. The most notable of these is a romantic storyline. This is a common trope of YA films, and while it is almost certainly included for the purpose of pleasing the target audience, it doesn’t add anything to the main storyline. Another subplot involves a drug dealer, and while that one does have more of a payoff, it still could have been trimmed out.
The execution of the movie is very strong. The cinematography is great. During the climax of the film, the camera does an excellent job of heightening tension. The soundtrack is great, too. It includes many great hip-hop songs, from classics to modern hits. These do a good job of setting the movie’s atmosphere, and in some cases, even adding to the message.
Additionally, the ensemble is great. Amandla Stenberg is phenomenal in her lead role. She is given far more to do in this film than in her prior roles, and that is a good thing. Her emotion is surprisingly believable, and she has a very strong on-screen presence. Russell Hornsby, who plays her father, is a standout in the supporting cast. He makes a character that could have easily felt flat instead seem much more nuanced. Common has a smaller role, but he still shines, having some of the most impactful scenes.
Overall, The Hate U Give was an interesting and emotional film. It is important for today’s youth to see, as it handles some tough topics in a way that, although shallow at times, can serve to spark interest in current events.
The Hate U Give is now playing in select theaters. It expands October 12 before opening everywhere October 19.