Strong Performances Shine a Light on “Hate”

Amandla Stenberg gives another strong and emotional performance as Starr in “The Hate U Give.” Russell Hornsby who has been relegated to supporting roles for most of his career (his lead in the short film, “Milk and Honey,” a notable exception), has a career making turn as Starr’s father.

Megan Lawless (l), Amandla Stenberg, and Sabrina Carpenter in a scene from "The Hate U Give" (20th Century-Fox)

Megan Lawless (l), Amandla Stenberg, and Sabrina Carpenter in a scene from “The Hate U Give” (20th Century-Fox)

In the wake of a childhood friend’s death at the hands of a police officer and increasing unrest within her neighborhood, a high school student must decide if she is willing to speak out against gun violence.

Cast: Amandla Stenberg (Starr Carter), Regina Hall (Lisa Carter), Russell Hornsby (Maverick ‘Mav’ Carter), Anthony Mackie (King), Issa Rae (April Ofrah), Common (Carlos), Algee Smith (Khalil)

As one of few black students that attend a prestigious prep school, Starr Carter (Amandla Stenberg) has become particularly skilled in “code switching” – the practice of changing one’s behavior depending on the racial composition of the people in which she is associating. Inside her close-knit inner-city community, Starr is a typical teenager that enjoys hanging out with friends and going to parties. On campus, Starr is a more subdued version of herself that excels at basketball but doesn’t speak slang (although her classmates readily do so). She also has a white boyfriend (K.J. Apa) who yearns to get emotionally (and sexually) close to her.

Like many inner-city communities, Starr’s neighborhood is besieged by gun violence. The violence comes in equal measure from criminals within the community and from overly aggressive police officers that seem unwilling to give neighborhood residents the benefit of the doubt. While Starr visits her classmates (Sabrina Carpenter, Megan Lawless) at their suburban homes, her neighborhood is largely off limits to them.

Starr (Amandla Stenberg) runs into Khalil (Algee Smith), a childhood friend, at a party in "The Hate U Give" (20th Century-Fox)

Starr (Amandla Stenberg) runs into Khalil (Algee Smith), a childhood friend, at a party in “The Hate U Give” (20th Century-Fox)

One night, Starr’s carefully compartmentalized world is tested when she attends a neighborhood party. At the gathering, Starr runs into Khalil (Algee Smith), a childhood friend. There’s an ease between them that only comes from people that have known each other a long time. Unfortunately, things take a turn for the worst when Starr witnesses Khalil being shot and killed by a police officer after a traffic stop.

Back at school, Starr tries to conceal her grief from her school friends and doesn’t tell them that she even knew Khalil, much less that she witnessed the shooting firsthand. Several students at Starr’s school stage a “protest” of Khalil’s shooting which includes several white kids holding posters with #BlackLivesMatter on them. However, it soon becomes obvious to Starr that what her classmates are doing is more about getting out of school than condemning police violence against young black men.

At home, Starr must decide if she will go public with what she knows about the shooting. One the one hand this may jeopardize her relationships with her boyfriend and her other white friends at school. On the other hand, there are forces within her own community that don’t want her to speak up for different reasons.

This presents a major dilemma for Starr. She ultimately must decide what is the best way to honor the death of Khalil and other victims of gun violence.

Amandla Stenberg gives another strong and emotional performance as Starr in “The Hate U Give.” Russell Hornsby who has been relegated to supporting roles for most of his career (his lead in the short film, “Milk and Honey,” a notable exception), has a career making turn as Starr’s father. Portraying a former Black Panther, Hornsby has a commanding presence in the film that is deserving of awards recognition. Director George Tillman, Jr. (“Men of Honor”) maintains a steady hand despite the emotionally charged material. Screenwriter Audrey Wells (“Under the Tuscan Sun”) adapts Angie Thomas’ YA novel with passion and conviction without resorting to bombast and schmaltz.

Unlike recent films such as “BlacKkKlansman” and “Blindspotting,” which take a strong unambiguous approach to racism and/or police violence, “The Hate U Give” takes a more balanced approach. While it is clear where along the spectrum Starr eventually lands, the film tries to present multiple sides of one issue (from both the left of Starr and to the right), so that the viewer can learn to appreciate a different point of view than one’s own.

“The Hate U Give” opens on Friday, October 5th in selected theaters. The film will expand into wide release over the following two weeks. Released by 20th Century-Fox. The film is Rated PG-13 by the MPAA for “for mature thematic elements, some violent content, drug material and language.”

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