Adapting YA novels can be a bit of a tricky high-wire act to walk. You have to satisfy your fervent teen fanbase while elevating the material to wider audience. The novel The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas was particularly difficult because of its very sensitive and timely subject matter of police violence on African-Americans. Fortunately director George Tillman Jr and his team have done an excellent job with their film The Hate U Give and made one of the best films of the year.
First of all, let me set fans of the novel, like my niece’s fears to rest by saying that they changed very little in the adaptation. At least by my memory, almost everything in the book is in the movie, so yay!
The Hate U Give is about a teenage girl named Starr (Amanda Stenberg) who lives in a tough part of town called Garden Heights. Her father (Russell Hornsby) works as the owner of a small grocery/convenience store and her mother (Regina Hall) is a nurse. To give their children a better life they send them to a richer private school called Williamson High. Here Starr has to put on a face, even for her white boyfriend, so that she is not seen as ghetto.
Unfortunately one Saturday after leaving a party with her friend Khalil (Algee Smith) a tragedy occurs and he is killed by a police officer. This starts Starr on a journey to figure out her place in the world and how she can best use her voice.
What makes this script work so well is it is so well-rounded. We hear from so many different perspectives on the situation including Starr’s Uncle Carlos (Common) who happens to be a cop. Anthony Mackie also plays King a local drug dealer who threatens Starr and her family as she gets ready to share her truth.
At Sundance I saw a similarly themed movie called Monster and it was so heavy-handed and full of distracting visual choices from the director. It’s almost like the director didn’t trust the truth of his material. Not the case here. Director George Tilman Jr has faith in his script, and he let’s it tell its story.
The cast of The Hate U Give also really feels like a family. They have chemistry together and they all had unique voices and spirits that meshed well together. I never felt like the teenagers were being one note rebellious or the parents were being bossy. These are people who happen to be related and happen to love each other. It was honestly one of the most believable family groupings I’ve seen in a movie in a long time.
The only part I didn’t love in the movie was some of the school dynamics- particularly with a white girl friend of hers. It didn’t have the nuance of the rest of the movie but to be fair I didn’t like those scenes in the book either.
Obviously with such material there are tense moments and some violence but I would take my family if I had one. It’s not too graphic and the message of family and standing up for who you are is positive and important. The Hate U Give is the kind of movie I would take my family to and then have a family home evening and discuss why injustices happen and what we can do to make our world a better place. I like that it doesn’t sugarcoat the hard truths of life but it also never loses the sense of hope and faith.
It’s great. You should all see it.
Ranked 15 out of 114 Releases for 2018