Based on Angie Thomas’s novel, The Hate U Give tells the story of Starr (Amandla Stenberg) whose life is disrupted when she witnesses her friend get shot by the police during a traffic stop. Shaken by the events, and the only witness, Starr must decide whether she should testify against the officer or maintain the code of silence like a local drug lord, King (Anthony Mackie) wants her to.
Much of the frustration that Starr expresses, and people of colour can attest to, is the notion of not truly being seen. The film establishes early on that Starr must employ code-switching to survive the vastly different environments she is part of. This entails constructing two versions of herself, one for the predominantly white private school she attends and one more fitting for the black community her family lives in.
The idea of being invisible to those in the world around you really hits home when the film points out how often police are given the benefit of the doubt, especially in white communities, when they shoot an unarmed person who is black. The hypocrisy of supposed allies who only want to adopt black culture on their terms is not lost on Starr or the viewers.
The one complaint to be had with the film is that director George Tillman Jr. tries a little too hard at times to appease those who fall into the “All Lives Matter” camp. For example, there is a sequence where Starr’s police officer uncle Carlos (Common) tries to explain what goes through a cop’s mind when they pull over an individual. The scene is shot in a way that is clearly meant to convey a “we are not bad, just misunderstood” message. However, the speech is undermined by Carlos admitting, when questioned further, that he is less likely to shoot if it is a white person in the exact same situation.
In another moment, a protester smashes a police car windshield on the way to a march. This unnecessary action only perpetuates the stereotype that black people are unable to protest peacefully, thus providing a cloak of justification for the police brutality that occurs moments later.
Regardless of these quibbles, it is hard not to be moved by the film. Featuring strong performances by Stenberg and the ensemble cast, Russell Hornsby is a frequent scene stealer as Starr’s dad Maverick; and capturing the injustice and its impact on generations of children, The Hate U Give packs an emotional punch.
Thursday, September 13, 2:30 PM, Princess of Wales
Sunday, September 16, 11:00 AM, Ryerson Theatre