Another film that I didn’t get to see at TIFF (really too many quality films!), though I didn’t have to wait long to see it. It would be a serious mistake to just chalk this up to being just another coming of age film. There are so many more layers and issues at work here. Important issues. Timely issues. Issues that we need to examine/discuss.
Teenager Starr (Amandla Stenberg – The Hunger Games, Rio 2) has been “trained” by her father Maverick (Russell Hornsby – Fences, Meet the Parents) since as the age of nine how to behave as a person of colour if ever she is stopped by the police. She and her two brothers, Seven (Lamar Johnson – appeared in episodes of Rookie Blue and Covert Affairs) and Sekani (TJ Wright – first film), know what to do. This is the reality of being a person of colour in the United States.
Now, as a teenager, she is divided. Divided between two worlds. The neighbourhood she lives in is a mostly black and poor whereas where she goes to shcool is private, white and filled with kids from rich families. Has to keep the balance between the two Starrs. One at home and in the neighbourhood and one at school. She is doing a pretty good job of that until one evening when a tragedy occurs.
Starr goes to a house party in her neighbourhood with lifelong friend Kenya (Dominique Fishback – from television’s The Deuce) and there she sees another long time friend, Khalil (Algee Smith – Detroit). Gunfire happens at the party. Everyone scrambles for safety. Khalil takes Starr home. While driving her home they are stopped by a police officer. Starr does as her father has trained her. Khalil does not. He is shot and dies at the scene.
Needless to say, Starr is totally traumatised by what she has witnessed. As many have come to expect, it seems like the cop is not even going to be charged. She is approached by a lawyer (Issa Rae – from television’s Insecure) to come forward to testify against the police officer (Drew Starkey – Love, Simon). She is torn. Torn between the two worlds she has had to live in.
Author Angie Thomas wrote The Hate U Give and it has gone on to become a very popular young adult novel. Screenwriter Audrey Wells (A Dog’s Purpose, Under the Tuscan Sun), who sadly very recently died, took on the Hurculean task of adapting the poignant work. Director George Tillman Jr. (The Longest Ride, Notorious) brings it to the big screen. All have done a great job! Though I am sure there will be divided opinions about the film.
The film really attempts to reflect what the realities are in regards to race relations in the United States at present. A fictional story that accurately depicts reality. There is a message here. No attempt is made to conceal that. What elevates it from being stereotypical and preachy is the amount of heart and soul that oozes through almost every scene.
You see that even though what Starr wants is rather simple – she wants to go to school, date her boyfriend (K.J. Apa – from television’s Riverdale) and live a nice life – her life is anything but. What this film does in an obvious yet quiet way is show that it was never possible. Just because of the colour of her skin and what neighbourhood Starr was born into.
Social issues from the viewpoint of a teenage girl. It is a rather unique slant on issues that have been ongoing for most of the existence of the U.S. The film turns an eye on police brutality, race issues, poverty, violence, and divisions within the black community. Several scenes deal with confrontations between white cops and black men. Delicate yet something that happens many times a day in the U.S.
Loads of story happens here. The Hate U Give is longer than two hours. None of it seems “extra”. And director Tillman handles it with such a light touch that it also seems realistic. Light though there is plenty simmering just underneath the surface. To make sure its message hits home it uses realism not heavyhandedness. The realism makes everything more emotional and poignant. An example of a film that will not only engage its audience, but bring about plenty of discussion. Then maybe, just maybe, change.
Young actress Amandla Stenberg carries the film. Her performance is smart and layered. A real natural actress who gets across the story with the ease of a veteran. The performance will probably result in her becoming a star in the film world. Plenty of “it”. She is ably supported by the rest of the cast including Rae, Common (Wanted, Selma), Anthony Mackie (The Hurt Locker, Avengers: Infinity War), and Regina Hall (Girls Trip, Scary Movie). There is plenty of story to go around, so everyone gets their time to shine.