MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
Starr Carter (Sternberg) is a black teenager who seems to have the best of both worlds. Although her father Maverick (Russell Hornsby) has had a rough patch in the past, he is a loving dad and owner of the local grocery store (Walmart is 30 minutes away from the primarily black community of Garden Heights where they live). Starr’s family is loving and supportive and she dotes on her half-brother Seven (Johnson) and little brother Sekani (TJ Wright). Her mother Lisa (Regina Carter) is a nurse at a local clinic.
Starr has friends in Garden Heights but attends a private school with her brothers in the affluent community of Williamson. But she is a different person in this upscale world, calling herself Starr 2.0. She has learned how to code switch and refrains from using black slang even when her white friends at school take every opportunity to sound urban around her. Her white boyfriend Chris (K. J. Apa) stumbles in his attempts to bridge the cultural gap, but he has a teachable spirit and wants Starr to take him home to meet her folks.
All three children have been given “the talk” by their parents. This lecture is all about how they are to act if they are pulled over by the police. "Keep your hands visible. Don't make any sudden moves. Only speak when they speak to you." They have also learned the positive message of the Black Panthers 10-Point program. The family prays together and worship together. Every box is checked to insure a happy life.
But Starr has seen a childhood friend die in a drive-by shooting. Her other childhood friend Khalil (Algee Smith) is beginning to get involved dealing drugs for King (Anthony Mackie), the same crime lord that her father once worked for in his younger days (in a misguided attempt to improve his life). But Starr knows all of the good things about Khalil and has not given up hope on his future.
One night when Starr and Khalil are at a neighborhood party a gunshot is heard and everyone scatters before the authorities arrive. Khalil offers to take Starr home and is stopped by a rookie policeman. Khalil talks back, is told to come out of the car and makes the mistake of reaching inside of the window to pick up a hairbrush. The young cop assumes the brush is a gun and fires; Khalil is shot dead.
The film begins as a semi-cheesy teenage romcom but then quickly moves into a never-ending reflection on race, family, neighborhood, white privilege, and law enforcement. Starr’s uncle Carlos (Common) is a police officer who has moved out of Garden Heights, so he is also torn between two worlds. As Starr owns up to her responsibility of being the key witness to Khalil’s shooting death, tensions increase to the breaking point and she has to struggle with doing the right thing, even when justice seems elusive.
There is much to talk about in this adaptation of Angie Thomas’ award-winning 2017 YA novel, and the characters do talk a lot. At times the movie seems to overreach in its speechifying, running the risk of turning into four or five Afterschool Specials rolled into one. But I would like to recommend this movie precisely because it covers so much territory. Amanda Sternberg (Rue in The Hunger Games) delivers a powerful performance as Starr and the film wisely shows us most of the events from her perspective. Although the film has a bit of swearing, I hope that families and youth groups will view this movie and then spend time talking about it afterwards. It is just about as fair a depiction of the issues around the Black Lives Matter movement as young teens can handle, and the heart of the film is positive and hopeful without being naïve and simplistic. The Hate U Give is finally a story about the power of love, the redemptive love that keeps a family together and builds bridges of understanding. It is love that considers the cost and loves nevertheless. The Hate U Give is a film that keeps on giving.
Halo and Pitchfork Rating:
Five halos: A thoughtful film on the complexities of race in America, with many teachable moments.
Three pitchforks: Occasional PG-13 swearing (including the meaning of the film’s title), drug and alcohol abuse, shooting violence, mild racist slurs.)
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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