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With: Amandla Stenberg, Regina Hall, Russell Hornsby, KJ Apa, Anthony Mackie, Sabrina Carpenter, Common, Issa Rae, Lamar Johnson, Dominique Fishback, Algee Smith
Written by: Audrey Wells, based on a novel by Angie Thomas
Directed by: George Tillman Jr.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for mature thematic elements, some violent content, drug material and language
Running Time: 132
Date: 10/12/2018

The Hate U Give (2018)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Life Goes On

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

In terms of artistry, George Tillman Jr.'s The Hate U Give is a decent enough movie, but in terms of its social and emotional power, it's an essential document for these terrible times. It's based on a young adult novel by Angie Thomas, and it has a softer edge than something like Kathryn Bigelow's Detroit; it even has a happy ending. But in aiming for a broader audience, it just may well get one. And that's a good thing.

Teen Starr (Amandla Stenberg) lives in a tough, black neighborhood and commutes, along with her brother Seven (Lamar Johnson), to an all-white prep school. While she can be herself at home and in her 'hood, she must scrub all that away for school. Even though the white kids speak in black slang, she herself doesn't use it around them. (She calls this "Starr Version One" and "Version Two.") One night at a party, she runs into her childhood friend Khalil (Algee Smith), and when he gives her a ride home, they are pulled over. Khalil reaches into the car for a hairbrush and is shot dead by the white officer. Starr realizes that she can come forward as a witness, but this will jeopardize her carefully-organized identity.

The movie's themes and characters are exactingly worked out; the screenplay was written mainly by Audrey Wells, her last (she passed away from cancer shortly before the film's release). Russell Hornsby plays the bold, loving father, Maverick, who starts things off with "The Talk," explaining what to do if and when his children are ever pulled over by white cops. Common plays Starr's uncle, who, ironically, is a cop, and who sees the problem with a different, equally complex perspective. And K.J. Apa plays Starr's white boyfriend, who, rather than being a clueless dolt, actually has his own view of things and is eager to listen and learn. Regina Hall is lovely as Starr's mother, and is the source of many moments of breezy life and love among the family members.

While it's always great to see Anthony Mackie, he plays the scowling drug lord King, forever driving around and giving threatening looks. The movie makes its gravest error when Starr goes on TV and, for no particular reason, mentions King by name, thereby endangering her entire family. Perhaps deleting this subplot might have been the solution to the movie's behemoth 132-minute running time. However, the movie is so full of rare moments of life, moments in which to just breathe, that I'd hesitate to lose any of them to make a leaner and more conventional movie. (I love one moment in which Starr's little brother Sekani, played by TJ Wright, snatches a piece of bacon from her breakfast plate; she grabs him and begins planting attacking little kisses all over him, to his squirming delight.)

No, the real point of The Hate U Give is that it will hopefully be seen by an army of young people who will take something away from it, perhaps a new kind of respect and understanding of the racial divide in this country. The shame is that the folks that most need to see it, mostly the followers of a certain orange-skinned monster, will not, and would never, as if ignorance were a badge of honor. As for me, I'm not exactly the movie's intended audience either, but I identified thoroughly with Starr, a character that perhaps doesn't truly, fully believe in herself, and must wear different faces for different occasions. I think we've all had that problem, and rising up, attempting to overcome it, and putting that energy toward a cause, is reason for celebration.

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