The Hate U Give directed by George Tillman Jr, is every bit the powerful, moving film the trailer promised it would be. With standout performances from both Regina Hall and Russel Hornsby, the piercing spear of fear of being Black anywhere, but specifically in America, is shot through the center of the film. Several of my own personal worst nightmares were projected back at me while watching.
Fear is a large word. We tend to reserve it for huge events. The fear of flying, of another terrorist attack, of dying. Dying is such a small part of the fear I feel as a Black American. I fear befriending racists and letting them attack my soul, which is already so fragile. I fear that my brother, a literal angel on Earth, will be hurt through no fault of his own. I fear small mistakes will ruin my career because I’m a Black woman and we don’t get many opportunities.
All of those fears are so perfectly on display in The Hate U Give. Not just the traffic stops but all the small things that keep Black people quiet. Starr (Amandla Stenberg) is quiet. Tillman Jr. allows Starr time to unravel why she chooses silence. Using close-up shots and taking advantage of Stenberg’s large eyes, he explores the internal world of a young girl baffled at a world that is insurmountably unfair. Stenberg manages the complexity of navigating multiple worlds with piercing subtlety.
My favorite characters are Maverick (Hornsby) and Lisa Carter (Hall). I have never really seen my parents on screen. Their unwavering dedication to one another, the way they argue, how they tease each other has only been explored in television. Starr, at one point, calls her parents her OTP (one true pair) and I couldn’t agree more. Hornsby could easily see some award recognition for his work here. The gentle but strong hand he exemplifies with his children is terribly moving.
This is a film for Stenberg’s generation, though it easily reaches all age groups. Using pop culture references like Solange’s elevator fight, the deep universal love of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and a dope soundtrack, The Hate U Give is grounded in the world as it is right now.
My one problem with the film is that Starr is not played by a dark-skinned youth. Please don’t conflate this with shade to Stenberg. They are an actor who took a job. I can’t fault them for that. Producers hired an actor they hoped would sell tickets. The casting of Stenberg is a pipeline problem. Being at TIFF this year has highlighted the deeply flawed film industry and its ignorance and refusal to bring underrepresented groups out of the shadows and into the foreground.
Every moment of The Hate U Give would have been visually more dynamic if a melanin-rich person were in the lead. The dichotomy of Starr and her white boyfriend, Starr confronting officers, speaking with her parent about how to interact with the cops, even putting on the school uniform. In a nearly perfect film, I was continuously disappointed that a young dark-skin actor wasn’t given an opportunity to bring this story to life. The chance to hammer home the intelligence, desirability, and yes, fear that dark-skin women in America face every day.
Solange told us in A Seat at the Table that Black women have a right to be angry. I left The Hate U Give furious. I cried for about 15 minutes afterward. The contemporary nature of the film leaves no room for escapism. This is not a film that allows you, for even a moment, to hope that children will be unaffected by the hate that surrounds them. It faces that issue head-on and challenges audiences to do something about it.
The Hate U Give is a cipher. A blending of multiple Black voices sharing their stories of fear, resistance, and most importantly community. Love, not the gooey on-screen kind, but the difficult, brutally honest kind radiates through every frame. A loving father and mother, the love of blended families, and the love of true friends. In Stevie’s Dream, Janelle Monáe and Stevie Wonder have a conversation in which Stevie says, “Even when you’re upset, use words of love… Don’t let your expressions, even of anger, be confused or misconstrued. Turn them into words of expressions that can be understood by using words of love.” That kind of visible love was needed. I needed it anyhow.
To the Black folks coming out of the film, be prepared to answer some difficult questions from children, particularly if you haven’t had the police conversation yet. One scene gave me a full-on panic attack. I urge the anxiety-prone, those living with PTSD, and anyone who suffers from similar symptoms to have a support person or coping mechanism available. It is viscerally real. I used “A Seat at the Table” as the salve for my burn. Marvin Gaye would work too.
Header Image Source: Fox