July 6, 2019

The Hate U Give (2018)
Grade: 50/100

Director: George Tillman Jr.
Stars: Amandla Stenberg, Russell Hornsby, Algee Smith

What it's about. Starr (Amandla Stenberg) is a gorgeous black teen attending a posh Catholic high school. She feels she must behave differently there than she can in her own poor and predominantly black neighborhood.

Starr has a hip white boyfriend Chris (K.J. Apa) whom she apparently only sees at school. Her best friend at school is Hailey (Sabrina Carpenter), a white girl prone to politically incorrect statements.

Starr's family includes intimidating but devoted father Maverick (Russell Hornsby), concerned mother Lisa (Regina Hall), slightly older brother Seven (Lamar Johnson), and pre-adolescent younger brother Sekani (TJ Wright). Maverick, an ex-convict, used to belong a local drug gang, headed by menacing King (Anthony Mackie).

Starr is riding at night in a car with childhood friend Khalil (Algee Smith) when he is pulled over without due cause by white cops. Khalil protests to the cop, matters escalate, and the unarmed Khalil is shot dead. Starr is traumatized but uninjured. A civil rights activist (Issa Rae) presses her to testify, while King is opposed to this, fearing a police investigation into his gang's activities.

Tensions between the police and black community intensify. A stressed-out Starr turns on frenemy Hailey but binds tighter with Chris and her family. Against all odds, a mostly happy ending ensues.

How others will see it. The Hate U Give was not a box office hit, but the ambitious movie was generally praised by critics. The film won Best Picture at the Los Angeles Online Film Critics Society, and Stenberg won Outstanding Actress at the Image Awards. Notably, the Oscars and Golden Globes ignored the film.

At imdb.com, the movie has a modest total of less than 20K user votes. About 75% of voters grade it between 7 and 10, though the arithmetic mean is brought down by 10% of male voters over 30 assigning a one out of ten to the movie. One wonders what their motivations are.

The user reviews are commensurately divided between high praise and sour grapes, with more of the former than the latter. Some appreciate the film's placing some of the blame on black crime instead of white prejudice.

How I felt about it. There were a number of things about this movie that I didn't like. For example, Starr yells at a crying, cowering Hailey, and we are supposed to assume that Starr is justified in such behavior. And isn't disciplined for it either.

I can believe that model-perfect black girls with two hundred-dollar hairstyles attend Catholic high schools. What I have trouble believing is that such a girl lives in a ghetto with a heavily tattooed ex-felon father. If they have the money to put her in a private school, they should move to a neighborhood where criminal gangs aren't hunting the innocent.

The boyfriend Chris was too good to be true as well. No matter how Starr behaves, or how intimidating her father is, or whether Starr wants to participate in a risky street riot, he's okay with it. Because he's a movie character, instead of an ultimately selfish high school student.

I also thought the ending wrapped things up too nicely, in a matter intended to appeal to audiences. King is imprisoned, the neighborhood is on the way up, the family is planting trees. Quite a change from the street riots and gang terrorism not long ago.

But these are all emotional reactions, subjective instead of objective. A more definitive criticism is that the film's pivotal question is whether she will testify. (Though is never much doubt, given that since she is subpoenaed.) But the film does not show a moment of her witness testimony. Instead, she is shown serene and silent aside from her own voiceover.

I thought Algee Smith, Sabrina Carpenter, and Russell Hornsby gave particularly good performances.