In George Tillman Jr’s defiant The Hate U Give, Amandla Stenberg gives the performance of her young career as Starr, a girl forced to speak out after witnessing a friend’s murder at the hands of a white police officer.
Hailing from a black neighbourhood but attending a predominantly white private school, Starr is a guarded girl who tries to keeps her home/school personas as compartmentalised as her sneaker collection. Stenberg captures the complexity of this double life perfectly, deftly navigating the warm orange-yellow hues of Garden Heights and the icy grey-blues of Williamson Prep, never fully herself in either.
Starr’s increasing confidence in her own voice allows the film to break down the complexities of racism beyond simple violence. We see her frustration at white classmates joining protests purely to skip school, her exasperation at her white boyfriend (Apa) saying he doesn’t “see colour,” and forcing her uncle Carlos (a black police offer) to examine his own internalised prejudices in the wake of the tragedy.
Angie Thomas’ story may be fictional, but the film never lets us forget for a second that what’s presented onscreen has happened – and is happening – in real time. During a protest, when Starr picks up a smoke cannister and lobs it back at riot police, she’s emulating Ferguson protestor Edward Crawford. When Starr’s brother Seven cries, “I can’t breathe” as the cannisters erupt around them, he’s echoing Eric Garner’s last words. A Tumblr post evokes the memory of the horrific 1955 lynching of 14-year-old Emmett Till, highlighting how little has fundamentally changed.
The Hate U Give is a powerful, complex exploration of police brutality, the dehumanisation of black people and finding your voice – with more than a few scenes that should hopefully make white audiences sit up and examine their own attitudes.
CAST: Amandla Stenberg, Regina Hall, Russell Hornsby, KJ Apa, Algee Smith
DIRECTOR: George Tillman Jr
WRITER: Audrey Wells
SYNOPSIS: Caught between her black neighbourhood and predominantly white school, Starr (Stenberg) is forced to stand up for what’s right after her friend Khalil (Algee Smith) is fatally shot by a white police officer.