There’s one phrase that runs through my head every day of every week of every year: You can’t see them all. At some point, trying to keep up with all of the films released in a year in theaters, digitally, and on physical media from a constantly growing industry of publishers is a near-impossible task. Along the way, there are films that you wish you see in the theater and The Hate U Give is this film. Director George Tillman Jr. (Soul Food/Men of Honor/Faster) tackled Young Adult author Angie Thomas’s second novel, The Hate U Give, a seemingly simple social drama which slowly unveils itself as a rich, character-driven story powered by fantastic performances from the entire cast, that seeks to explore the complicated nature of race relations in the United States. The Hate U Give is not the first YA novel adapted for cinema, it’s not the only YA film released in 2018, and it’s certainly not the only 2018 film which examines race relations in the United States. It is, perhaps, the only film of the year which not only examines the complex issue, but offers a solution, one which requires a great deal of effort by everyone involved to acknowledge their implicit biases and to take action to change them. Only then can true social justice be achieved.
Starr Carter (Amandla Stenberg) lives with her close-knit family of five in Garden Heights, a small town with a tight community and high crime rate. To keep their kids safe, Starr’s parents, Lisa (Regina King) and Maverick (Russell Hornsby), send Starr and her brothers to Williamson Prep, a private school with higher academic opportunities, a school uniform, and none of the dangers of Garden Heights. Splitting her time between two communities, Starr sees herself equally divided between a version which blends into the hood and a version which blends into affluent society. This internal fissure grows stronger when Starr finds herself the lone witness of the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil (Algee Smith) by a police officer. In the aftermath, her community wants justice, her classmates don’t understand the injustice, and Starr herself doesn’t know if she should speak up.
To get at why The Hate U Give matters, we need only look at the scene late in the film between Maverick and Starr where he explains the two choices presented to people from places like Garden Heights: avoid the trap or fall into the trap. Avoiding the trap typically means escaping the system of financial and social disparity which exists to keep the impoverished from rising beyond their station. This aspect is explored satirically in Boots Riley’s Sorry to Bother You, which saw a young man struggling with the moral and ethical uncertainty of his high-financial-gain work which kept him and his family from needing to join a worker’s camp. That leaves option two: falling into the trap. This, Mav explains, is when individuals try to avoid the trap, but are unable to gain employment, stay in school, or succeed in any other option which should empower them to grow their lives, so they turn to seedier means to pay their bills. Sometimes this means selling drugs, sometimes it means violence, but once you fall into the trap, you’re immediately caught in a system of prison, rehabilitation, and social expulsion, an endless cycle requiring a Herculean effort to escape. Carlos López Estrada’s Blindspotting, written by Rafael Casal and Hamilton’s Daveed Diggs, tracks a man’s last three days on probation in which he witnesses a police shooting of an unarmed black man. Here, Collin (Diggs) must decide if he’s willing to escape the trap at the cost of social justice. If these are really the only two options, it’s no wonder that films like Spike Lee’s BlackKklansman garner such general audience and critical acclaim, as Lee’s story demonstrates that the battles of the past are still on-going today. It could be suggested, then, that the two options Maverick presents to Starr aren’t just examples of a systematic failure, but that the acceptance of only these two options are perpetuating a cycle of violence with no end in sight. Not just the presentation of this notion, but the idea that the cycle can end if we all choose for it to makes The Hate U Give not only resonate emotionally, but strikes you straight to your core.
Leading up to its October 19th release, there was nothing but acclaim from critics and general audiences alike, yet, during Awards season, there’s been nothing. Instead, most accolades lean toward Peter Farrelly’s Green Book, a film which examines the racial divide through the eyes of a white man and has largely been derided as diminishing the life of Dr. Don Shirley. Given the current state of film criticism, it’s no big surprise that a crowd-pleasing film like Green Book would gain attention, yet it’s also representative of a larger issue in society and the role of cinema. As has been expressed before, though more recently in the 2018 documentary CinemAbility, audiences want to feel empowered by their choices and want to feel comforted by their own ideals. In this regard, even audiences who see themselves as “woke” or as “allies” struggle when the stories they view don’t placate to their internal biases. The power of The Hate U Give is that it neither placates nor lectures. It presents an incredibly complicated scenario grounded in tangible, relatable concerns whose seemingly unrelenting escalation of tension is not dramatized for entertainment, but is presented as all too normal. It presents the Carter family as people with the same struggles as anyone else: a mother and father who strive to give their kids what they had growing up or, better yet, something more; affording their kids, Starr, Seven (Lamar Johnson), and Sekani (TJ Wright), the chance to avoid the trap which Maverick fell into; or, as Thomas suggests via Starr, trying to destroy the trap altogether. But to do that would mean recognizing the title of the film, appropriated by Thomas from musician Tupac Shakur, in its full meaning: The Hate U Give Little Infants Fuck Everybody, or Thug Life. In order to break the cycle, we need to recognize the part we all play in the weaponization of skin color and cultural differences.
Before Awards season hits its pinnacle with the 91st Academy Awards broadcast on February 24th, take a moment to watch a film not given its due, available on home video January 22nd. While fans of the novel will doubtlessly recommend you read Thomas’s words in order to get the full-depth of meaning in the story, Tillman Jr.’s work is not to be dismissed. The Hate U Give reminds us that no matter how far we’ve come, we still have far to go, but that the end of the war begins within ourselves.
None of the special features were available for inclusion in the review.
THE HATE U GIVE 4K Ultra HD™, Blu-ray & DVD Special Features:
- Extended scenes:
- Maverick and Seven Protecting Their Home
- Seven’s Graduation
- Starting a Conversation
- The Talk
- Code Switching
- The Heart of Georgia
- Thank U Georgia
- Starr: Shine Your Light (4K Ultra HD™ and Blu-ray™ only)
- Audio Commentary by George Tillman, Jr., Amandla Stenberg, Russell Hornsby, Angie Thomas and Craig Hayes
Available on digital now.
Available on Blu-ray and DVD January 22, 2019.
Final Score: 4.5 out of 5.