“The Hate U Give”

 

            White cops shooting unarmed black men.  It's the incendiary issue of our times, and this movie, like the book it's based upon, humanizes it by giving us some empathetic characters.

            Starr Carter (Amandla Stenberg, whose mother is African-American and whose father is Danish) lives in two different worlds.  At home, she lives in an all-black neighborhood, where her father owns a local convenience store.  Her mother works at the local hospital.  She has an older brother (who's actually a half-brother, it's complicated) and a younger brother, and they are a strong nuclear family, with Mom (Regina Hall) and Dad (Russell Hornsby) obviously loving each other.  Except Mom, whose parents made sure she attended Catholic school, not to learn to pray, but to give her more social opportunity, is determined that her kids are not going to the neighborhood high school, infamous for gangs, drugs, and poor academics.  Instead, Starr goes to a highly-rated high school on the rich side of town, where, yes, all the other students are white.

            Starr thinks of herself as divided into two personalities.  At home, she is comfortable in the black community, has friends from childhood, and goes to parties.  At school, though, she wears the preppie uniform, she doesn't say much, and other than playing on the girls' basketball team, just concentrates on her studies.  Oh, and she has a boyfriend, Chris (K.J. Apa), who's also white, who does his best to understand her, but there are parts he's just not going to get.

            But Starr's uneasy racial divide in her own life gets shattered when she happens to be the only witness to a police shooting, yep, white office and unarmed black man.  This calls into question Starr's ignoring of racial tensions in her own life, including when she would overlook dumb statements by her white friends.  She can't stay silent any more.  She decides she has to come forward and tell what she saw.  But that has many repurcussions, both for her and her family, as well as the whole community.  What begins as a peaceful protest about the officer's suspension becomes an all-out riot after the grand jury refuses to return an indictment.  And Starr is caught in the vortex.

            Based on the debut novel by Angie Thomas, “The Hate U Give” invites people of all races to consider their own attitudes about race relations in America.  It's disingeneous to talk about being “color blind,” because color is an inescapable part of personal identity.  Yes, the issue will divide friends, and sometimes families, as well.  But it's not going away.  And until something dramatic changes in the fabric of our society, we're all going to be influenced by the hate that festers around us.

In “The Hate U Give,” Amandla Stenberg wins us over with her reluctant reserve, dazzling smile, and emerging passion.  It's a stirring performance in a harrowing conext.

 

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association