Review: The Hate U Give (2018)

Starr Carter could have defeated Thanos.

In 2013 I attended Fan Expo, which is essentially Canada’s version of Comic-Con. It was really cool. I got a picture with Norman Reedus from The Walking Dead (2010 – present) and even experienced David Hasselhoff’s singing! But the best part by far was getting to meet Veronica Taylor, who quite literally gave voice to my childhood, as Ash Ketchum on Pokémon (1997 – present). She was kind enough to take pictures with me and my friends, do the Ash voice (my knees buckled), and hand out autographed cards with one simple message written on them: “Your voice is powerful. Use it wisely.” Those words have always stuck with me, and I’ve done my best to live my life by them. As it turns out, they also happen to be the core message of the movie, The Hate U Give (2018).

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Credit: imdb.com / 20th Century Fox

An adaptation of Angie Thomas’ young adult novel of the same name, The Hate U Give tells the story of Starr Carter, a black 16-year-old girl who is the sole witness of the police shooting of her childhood friend. Her life is then pulled in multiple directions as Starr is torn between doing what is right, and what is safe. It’s hard for me to write this review because this movie left me speechless. I’ve come to realize that when someone is speechless, it’s not because they have nothing to say. It’s because they have too much to say. I can’t speak highly enough of this movie. In a word, it was powerful. It was moving. It was heartbreakingly-beautful. Okay, three words.

My biggest praise by far, has to go to Amandla Stenberg who shines as Starr. See what I did there? Even before tragedy strikes, Starr’s life is already complicated as she routinely separates herself into Starr Version One, who embraces the culture of the neighbourhood she grew up in, and Starr Version Two, who edits herself to fit into her predominantly white high school. Playing that duality allows Stenberg to showcase her range as an actress, especially as she struggles to swallow the micro-aggressions that she has to endure each day. For example, she is unable to complain about being cut in front of in line for fear she’ll be labelled “ghetto,” and notes that, “slang makes them (white students) cool. Slang makes me hood.” Starr’s life is transformed from pushing aside these uncomfortable moments, to addressing them head on as she becomes a voice for justice and change. During this movie, Starr showed more bravery, and was a greater advocate for justice, than any of the 8,000 superheroes we’ve been introduced to in the last 15 years.

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Credit: desertnews.com / 20th Century Fox

It’s an incredibly daunting role for such a young actress but Stenberg handles the movie’s complex themes and dialogue with the grace and nuance of an actress twice her age. I think it helps that the script is written in a way that almost makes the movie feel like a documentary. Obviously as a Caucasian Canadian I can’t even begin to understand the kind of experiences African-Americans face on a daily basis.What this movie does though, is masterfully capture those experiences and through its grounded and realistic characters, make them real for everyone in the audience. It puts you in the shoes of these characters, and directly approaches the difficult issues and topics they must face, with an earnest honesty.

Without giving anything away, the scene in which Starr witnesses the death of her friend is full of heart-pounding tension and desperation. I was more on edge watching them have to interact with the police officer than I was watching the new Halloween (2018). I suppose it’s a true testament to how the most gut-wrenching horrors are the ones based in reality.

One of the movie’s most captivating scenes is its first, in which Starr’s parents, played by Regina Hall and Russell Hornsby, with extreme precision, instruct their children on how to act when the police pull them over. How to respond, how to place their hands, how to stand, it’s an incredibly poignant example of the double-standards and realities that affect their lives. That’s when the movie and its cast are at their best: When they are able to address timely issues in a familiar and subtle way. Hornsby and Hall are given many opportunities to do this, and always mange to knock it out of the park. They play off each other so well and with such wonderful timing, that I could watch them play husband and wife again and again and again. Regina Hall…Regina Hall is fantastic. Whether the scene calls for her to be the picture of strength and togetherness for her family, or cut the tension by providing comedic relief, she never fails to make me smile. I love Regina Hall.

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Credit: blackfilm.com / 20th Century Fox

All the characters, even the despicable ones, are so fleshed-out, that I can only imagine what a great read this must have been. Is it just me, or are book-to-movie adaptations getting better and better? It (2017) become a box-office sensation, Love, Simon (2018) was a critical darling, and I can genuinely see this movie generating some serious Oscar buzz. I realize it’s uncommon for a YA adaptation to be a real awards-contender, but facts are facts: This movie scores 10s across the board. The acting, writing, direction, and pacing, are impeccable.

At times the dialogue feels slightly “after-school special,” but then it’s followed by a hauntingly powerful scene that makes your jaw drop. Just when you think things are about to end on that powerful note, it takes a turn, blows your mind, makes you cry, and then hits an even more powerful note. Seriously, this movie is an emotional roller coaster that weaves its way though a handful of different genres. Each one the movie touches on; drama, action, comedy, romance, it does so perfectly and with genuine emotion. I laughed, cried, cringed, and gasped.

To me, The Hate U Give is everything a well-crafted movie should be: It entertains, educates, and inspires. I can’t recommend it enough. The message of using your voice to speak out against injustice, is an important one, and is certain to not be forgotten anytime soon.

Have you read or seen The Hate U Give? What did you think?

Let me know in the comments or on social media!

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