Black+White - The Hate U Give
“The Hate U Give Little Infants F**** Everybody.” It’s a terse phrase crudely manufactured to spell out THUG LIFE, the credo reflected in 2Pac’s music and emblazoned on his stomach. The film uses it as a jumping off point for some of its stronger messages and as a marker of profundity for some of its weaker ones. It’s ultimately a confusing brew of admirable qualities and confounding choices. The film is as likely to divides as the underlying political statements, but the movie means what it says, which is something.
The film opens with Starr (played by Amandla Stenberg), our teenaged protagonist, explaining her life. She attends a private school with affluent White kids and masks parts of her identity in order to blend into their world. When she leaves school, she often hangs out with the kids she grew up with in her predominantly Black neighborhood. We see her leave behind her school uniform and stride into a house party that is eventually broken up by gunshots. She and a childhood friend, Khalil (played by Algee Smith), leave the party in a rush and eventually end up hanging out. When tragedy strikes, and Khalil is killed by a police officer, Starr’s existence is turned upside down.
As the only witness to Khalil’s death, authorities ask Starr to testify in front of the grand jury. Her mother (played by Regina Hall), seeking to protect her, does everything she can to keep Starr out of the spotlight. As more and more media attention is placed on Khalil’s death, Starr must make choices that cause her worlds to collide. She goes back and forth between her school and her neighborhood and between these two worlds, Starr struggles to find her voice, remain who she is, and ultimately to avoid danger.
I admire what this movie is doing. Adaptations of Young Adult novels are often focused solely on romance and magic. That it seeks to comment on the world we live in is, in and of itself, noteworthy. There are many dramatic beats throughout the movie that are quite strong and the movie makes a number of empowering choices with regard to Starr. She is given an agency and a depth rarely seen in depictions of young Black women on screen, so to be given such a complex portrait is a treat. The movie deals with the duality of being Black in a way few attempt to and the screenplay really gives Starr time and room to explore her inner life.
That said, so much of the Blackness on display feels performative. Not necessarily to one another—though there is some of that as well—but to us, the viewers. I have to imagine that every time they cue up that slow piano music that dots many of the movies emotional downbeats, they are thinking that this is a scene meant to explain a concept to a White audience. The movie never trusts the audience to meet it halfway on any concept and always makes sure that this beginner’s guide to race relations is as user friendly as possible. In much the same way a movie like Crash sought to offer tidy narratives that told you exactly how to feel, the arc of the actually story totally lacks the kind of nuance worthy of interpersonal race-relations.
Beyond my issues with the heavy-handed approach taken at certain moments, the film also comes up short in certain believability measures. There are times where one must suspend disbelief and accept that the movie is genuinely trying. If you are someone who can easily do that, there is a lot you might enjoy about this. This is not a bad movie. It is a good one with lots of bad elements mixed in very proudly. When they use slow motion to drive home dramatic elements, they really think that is a good choice. When you see it, you might, as I do, disagree. But you are unlikely to walk away indifferent. Its scenes are blunt instruments meant to draw a response out of you and it is likely that they’ll do just that—Love it or Hate it.
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