There’s no doubt that The Hate U Give has many rage-fuelled, arm rest-clutching moments that’ll break your heart and set it on fire at the same time. The match is first lit in the film’s opening moments when Starr Carter – at an age where her biggest concern is which Harry Potter character she can pretend to be – is forced to understand that one day, she’ll get pulled over by a police officer. It’s excruciating to observe, as a father breaks down what to do if for no reason at all, her or a family member are stopped, and how to avoid the situation escalating. There is a reason of course, and though the colour of her skin is an entirely unjust one, it’s a constant reality that the film embraces, and the hugely impressive Amandla Stenberg pulls you through from then on.
Following this childhood flashback things quickly begin to teeter into Netflix YA adaptation territory, as Starr attempts to balance her life between the predominantly white prep school her mother sends her to, and the lower class black neighbourhood her father is reluctant to move his family away from. It’s only by a chance encounter and a personal tragedy for Starr that The Hate U Give becomes a stronger film with a much louder message to say.
The subject matter alone solidifies Starr’s world effortlessly, just because it’s our own. It’s in every skewed news report or slowly unjustified perspective in a discussion we continue to have, and Starr is there for all of it. Battling with the idea of speaking out or letting the world keep turning, Stenberg handles the role flawlessly, demonstrating confidence that the character demands. Following what is a life-changing event, she ensures to make every struggle through the grief one of raw emotion, establishing herself as a talent worth looking out for in the future. It’s hard to imagine that the timid tribute Rue from The Hunger Games became such a champion but here she is, and she dominates it.
Praise must also go to some of the cast surrounding Stenberg, most notably her parents. Seeing Regina Hall venture outside of her comedy comfort zone is great to see as Starr’s mother desperate to see her daughter have a better life than she did, but the biggest credit must fall to Russell Hornsby as Starr’s father, Maverick. A man with his own tumultuous past, his one-to-one’s with his only daughter are heartwarming and equally empowering. There’s a nobility to his performance that feels eerily reminiscent to Laurence Fishburne’s Furious from Boyz n the Hood, something that’s all the more frustrating considering that this is tackling the same issues as a film 27 years its senior.
While the message of The Hate U Give has no issue with being unheard, there are occasional dips in its transmission that halt its delivery. One major component that slows the film down is whenever Starr is at school, forced to switch off her personal issues with a community that are hugely out of touch with her own. It’s undeniable that this is a reality to a degree, but the execution makes it feel like a completely different film and one below the standard what it’s a part of. Add in the equally flat chemistry between Stenberg and her onscreen school sweetheart played by Riverdale‘s Archie, KJ Apa, who lacks any real spark in comparison to Algee Smith as Starr’s childhood friend, Khalil.
That’s a fragment of the tale any other young adult adaptation would relish in, but this isn’t one of those films. Instead, The Hate U Give is another necessary and near perfect big screen statement that will not go unheard, and it has Stenberg’s unwavering voice to thank for it.