‘The Hate U Give,’ a moving portrayal of Black duality

The Hate U Give was released in limited theaters last week, with Amandla Stenberg (The Hunger Games, The Darkest Minds) leading as protagonist Starr Carter. The adaptation of Angie Thomas’s young adult novel was received with high acclaim from critics across the nation, scoring a 96 percent on Rotten Tomatoes and an 81 percent on Metacritic.

The film sports a plethora of accomplished veteran actors and fresh faces. Starr’s mother, Lisa, is played by Regina Hall (Scary Movie, Girls Trip) and her father, Maverick, is portrayed by Russell Hornsby (Fences). The duo deliver impassioned performances and exhibit palpable chemistry as Starr’s parents. Some of the younger talent includes Lamar Johnson, who plays Starr’s half-brother Seven, and TJ Wright taking on the role of the youngest Carter sibling, Sekani.

The movie tells the story of a Black teenage girl, Starr Carter, who struggles to navigate between her private college prep Williamson high school (in the rich district) and her home life in the predominantly black, low-income neighborhood of Garden Heights. After being pulled over during a routine traffic stop one night, Starr becomes the sole witness to a fatal police shooting of her childhood friend, Khalil (Algee Smith). The movie tackles a serious subject with all the care and precision needed, developing a nuanced backstory and shining a light onto the humanity of victims of police brutality. The audience is given a glimpse into Khalil’s upbringing, with the portrayal of a complicated teenage boy sucked into the cycle of poverty.

What makes The Hate U Give so riveting is that the film politicizes the personal. Much of Starr’s life revolves around code-switching, being just “passing enough” to assimilate to her life at Williamson. She even goes as far as to create a “Starr 2.0” personality that is non-confrontational and appeases the white gaze. “Williamson Starr doesn’t give any reason to call her ghetto and I hate myself for doing it,” narrates Starr at the opening of the movie.

However, in the aftermath of Khalil’s death, she is confronted with the fact that her two identities can never truly exist separately. Starr faces an important decision: Will she spare her family the public scrutiny of testifying in front of a grand jury against the white police officer who shot Khalil? Or will she stand up in the face of injustice? The Hate U Give is an honest and unflinching portrayal of a young Black girl’s journey to exist unapologetically. It takes the typical coming-of-age narrative and adds the social and political complexity of racial constructs to the mix. The movie doesn’t shy away from the uncomfortable facets of Starr’s life, whether it’s confronting her friends about their economic and racial privileges, or dodging gang violence in her own neighborhood.

The film is bolstered by the entire cast’s raw performances and vulnerability. Russell Hornsby, as Maverick, is both compelling and emotional. Hornsby channels the militant, yet grounded persona of the family patriarch. Maverick opens up the film in a scene that shows him giving Starr and her two brothers “the talk” about what to do if they ever get pulled over by the police. Maverick represents a lot of important things in her life—a protector, a role model, and an example that people can change for the better.

The film also does a beautiful job paying homage to the black national movements, such as Black Lives Matter, that have led the way for young voices to mobilize. The teenage Starr finds herself hurled into the middle of the political aftermath of the shooting, but initially hesitates to put her family in the limelight. Stenberg’s performance is riveting and unflinching; she displays the raw emotions of a young girl coping with the trauma of seeing her friend get shot, while also displaying the unflinching bravery of Starr’s character. She is determined, magnetic, and above all fearless. Stenberg delivers the best performance of her career thus far.

The Hate U Give is one of the best book-to-film adaptations in recent years. Director George Tillman Jr. takes care to highlight the emotionally riveting moments of the novel and translate them to the big screen in a way that is easily digestible for mass audiences. The film delivers a decisive and clear message about societal injustices and police brutality, while also packaging it in a way that isn’t too preachy. The performances alone are Oscar-worthy, but the directorial and narrative layout are nothing short of brilliant.

The film is now open in limited release will expand nationwide on October 19.


Michelle Zacarias
Michelle Zacarias

Michelle Zacarias was a staff writer at People's World. A graduate of the Univ. of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, Zacarias invested her time in raising awareness on issues of social justice and equality. Michelle self identifies as multi-marginalized: as a Latina, a woman of color and a person with disabilities.