Films are like a time capsule that speak the truths of the time in which they are made. You might not inherently see it in every motion picture that’s ever graced the silver screen, but they’re there if you look for them. The Hate U Give from 21st Century Fox doesn’t just speak the truths of this decade, it shouts them at full volume and we all need to listen.
This film is powerful. It tells a powerful story, it features powerful characters, and it makes you feel every emotion at full force. The title itself is an acronym, spelling out the word “Thug,” a quote from Tupac about his tattoo. T-H-U-G-L-I-F-E: “The Hate U Give Little Infants ‘F’’s Everybody.” It’s an important part of the story and the protagonist at the center of the film shares her interpretation of it at the very end.
There are two sides to Starr Carter who lives in Garden Heights, a low income, predominantly black neighborhood, but attends a private, predominantly white high school. She’s caught between her two identities and tired of flipping switches. But when she witnesses her childhood friend being shot by a cop after being pulled over, her switch snaps. Starr’s parents have worked hard to ensure that she has a bright future, but being the only witness to an event that becomes a national headline puts everything at risk. Varying forces in her life are telling her to either stay quiet or speak up and as you can imagine, her choice and character journey are trying and emotional.
Amanda Stenberg is a radiant beam of light as Starr, a role that is sure to be a hallmark in a long and successful acting career. Anthony Mackie ditches his Falcon wings and takes up a more sinister role as King, the leader of a drug ring that plagues Starr’s neighborhood. And representing one of Starr’s opposing forces is Sabrina Carpenter from Disney Channel’s Girl Meets World, whose character represents the dangers of ignorance and failing to listen.
The cinematography is amazing, with the lighting and tone of Starr’s private school life feeling confining and oppressive. This is juxtaposed by her neighborhood, which features brighter colors and less constraint. You will feel the weight lift off her shoulders when she returns home, even when her home life is turbulent.
Those turbulent moments, like Starr’s father’s connection to the neighborhood drug lord, often feel like a distracting subplot. It becomes an essential part of the story by the end, but these scenes more often than not feel like an unnecessary diversion in an already long film. That feeling will likely diminish after a second viewing and theatergoers who read the book likely won’t feel this way at all.
A pleasant surprise is that the film has many lighter moments, including quite a few genuine laughs. My Hufflepuff heart was appeased by multiple Harry Potter jokes, including a hilarious mashup of titles by Starr’s father, who can’t get them right. It has a PG-13 rating for some violence and language, but avoids sexual scenarios to ensure that a wider audience can experience its strong message.
The Hate U Give already has a lot of award season buzz and for good reason. It’s a culturally defining film that perfectly captures this moment. Most importantly, though, it offers a very real look into African American life and the systematic racism that needs to change.
I give The Hate U Give 4 out of 5 “Hood Trio” Harry Potter Wands
Alex has been blogging about Disney films since 2009 after a lifetime of fandom. He joined the Laughing Place team in 2014 and covers films across all of Disney’s brands, including Star Wars, Marvel, and Fox, in addition to books, music, toys, consumer products, and food. You can hear his voice as a member of the Laughing Place Podcast and his face can be seen on Laughing Place’s YouTube channel where he unboxes stuff.