Moderator / Reviewer
- Apr 4, 2017
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The Hate U Give
One of the most polarizing film genres (or sub genres) that you can think is dealing with race relations. It’s such a hot topic and one that can go in either direction on the quality scale depending on HOW it’s handled. There have been some great films recently touching on the subject matter (Blindspotting, Get Out) and there have been some horrible ones (River Runs Red), and very few ever fall into the “meh, that was pretty solid category). However, The Hate U Give has been given some rave reviews by critics and some very solid audience reactions on the surface (I reiterate, ON THE SURFACE, being that when I saw the movie blind and started researching some more I found very mixed reviews), so I was hoping for another great Spike Lee type of movie, or another Get Out (which was my favorite film dealing with racial issues in the last several years). The book was hailed as fantastic, but I was completely blindsided by the movie when I first saw it. Going more in depth into the back story of the film and the novel by Angie Thomas I realized that it was a Young Adult novel, and things started clicking into place. It’s not that I was offended by the film, or that it brought up subjects that I was uncomfortable with. It’s that the subject matter was handled with the finesse of a drunken sailor, and painted in such broad and exaggerated strokes that I couldn’t help but notice the typical “young adult film” failings.
I honestly saw the film three times in as many days before giving this review. With such a serious subject matter and being one of the seemingly lone critics of the film I wanted to make sure I understood everything fully. Was I reacting to the film’s message in a way that was purely emotional? Was I judging it too harshly? Or was I looking at it through a different lens than the director wanted the audience to look through it at? My end criticism is not that the movie touches on subject matters that are uncomfortable or wrong, but that the movie itself was so syrupy and sickenly over powering with its message that the storytelling is just a side point for an emotional outpouring from the writers/directors.
Angie Thomas’s novel “The Hate U Give” was based off of the decade old shooting of Oscar Grant on Fruitvale Train Station (where the movie Fruitvale Station starring Michael B. Jordan was crafted), where a BART Cop thought that a cell phone was a gun, and shot the young black man. This started off a nation wide debate about police accountability as well as discussions on when “shoot first and ask questions later” was justifiable. However in this story it’s a little bit different. Starr Carter (Amandla Sterling) is raised in a poor part of town, with an ex gang banger father named Maverick (Russell Hornsby) teaching her that black people have to live more carefully than white people do when it comes to police interactions (pounding into their heads the 10 points of the original Black Panthers creed). After a childhood shooting where Starr was nearly killed, her mother (played by Regina Hall) puts Starr and her brother Seven (Lamar Johnson) into the rich, upscale school across town so that they could be studying instead of catching bullets.
From there the movie is a tale of Starr and her personal journey at dealing with the knowledge of her friend’s death, and dealing with the anger that results. However, there is some major MAJOR problems with how the film works these events out. One of the biggest problems stems from the inciting incident, which is Khalil’s death. While I fully admit that police brutality does happen at times, and bad shoots happen as well, they chose an incident which was INTENDED to be a black and white situation to inflame the audience’s ire against injustice, but ends up being rather hollow if you look at it objectively. The end result is a situation that is so muddied that you should be feeling empathy for both parties involved. We have a situation with what seems like a biased cop, but then you watch as Khalil does EVERYTHING wrong that he could possibly DO wrong in a traffic stop. The end result is a tragic loss of life off of a misunderstanding and a few split 10ths of a second judgement call (something that the film doesn’t go too far into), and the rest of the film’s rage and righteous indignation is tainted by the realization of that muddied waters. Starr’s uncle Carlos (Common), who is a black cop, tries to give an alternate point of view to Starr, but the film makers are so intent on having Starr be right that they don’t allow him to delve into WHY certain situations may carry different actions (I could write a thesis on the different ways that conversation between Starr and Carlos could have gone, but that’s just neither hear nor there), and the movie itself is covered in a thick syrupy layer of cheesy emotion stereotyping that I had a very frustrating time connecting at all with the main characters.
The thing is, racism exists. Hatred exists, and bad cops DO exists, but The Hate U Give was so sloppily done at times that it’s message was completely lost in a flurry of poor writing, over acting, and ridiculously stereotypical staged scenes. It wasn’t as bad as The River Runs Red, but it falls very much shorter of much better films who have touched on topics like these. A more recent film dealing with a police shooting of a young person of color is Blindspotting, which dealt with the subject matter much more honestly and much more realistically as well. While it’s not on the EXACT same subject, Get Out is another flick touching on racial conflicts while still being able to tell a compelling story first and foremost.
Now, there are some redeeming points of The Hate U Give. Amandla Stenberg is incredible as Starr. I may not agree with the writing that propelled her, but I can agree that Amandla did a stunning job at making Starr a visceral and powerfully emotional character. The saving grave of the film that actually made me interested in it was watching her character unfold and grow. Amandla is memserizing as the troubled teenanger, and as she adapts and grows into her true self you see her confidence and stability of personality emerge. The rest of the actors doe a solid job (although Common does very little but offer a stern sort of authority in the background), but this is really Amandla/Starr’s movie, and as such she is given the spotlight and SHINES in said spotlight.
Rated PG-13 for mature thematic elements, some violent content, drug material and language
4K Video: Video:
- Maverick and Seven Protecting Their Home
- Seven's Graduation
- Starting a Conversation
- The Talk
- Code Switching
- The Heart of Georgia
- Thank U Georgia
- Starr: Shine Your Light
• Audio Commentary by George Tillman, Jr., Amandla Stenberg, Russell Hornsby, Angie Thomas and Craig Hayes
I really actually wanted to like The Hate U Give due to the high initial reception to the film, and I REALLY liked Blindspotting a few months back, so I was a bit disappointed with how clumsily this one was handled. Honestly, I’m not too surprised when I realized that the book was a young adult book, and the film was directed at a young adult audience. It took a serious subject matter and handled it with the grace and finesse of your typical young adult post apocalyptic thriller, and watered down what could have been a compelling story. As I said, Amandla really gives a stellar performance and the movie itself has scenes that are really rather compelling and show signs of brilliance. It’s just frustratingly hidden behind ham fisted scenes that just chew the racial scenery to the point where the audience starts to feel disconnected with the subject matter. I gave it three separate watchings to make sure I wasn't missing something that other critics were seeing, but at the end of the day I have to be one of the few detractors of the film. 20th Century Fox’s 4K UHD disc sports a great video encode, as well as picture perfect audio and a whole bevvy of extras (although most are housed on the Blu-ray disc). I would give this one a rental before making up your own mind.
Starring: Amandla Stenberg, Russell Hornsby, Common, Anthony Mackie, Issa Rae, Regina Hall, K.J. Apa, Sabrina Carpenter, Algee Smith
Directed by: George Tillman Jr.
Written by: Audrey Wells (Screenplay), Angie Thomas (Novel)
Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1 HEVC
Audio: English: DTS-HD MA 7.1, French, Spanish DD 5.1
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Runtime: 134 Minutes
Blu-ray Release Date: January 22nd, 2019
Recommendation: Rent First