The Hate U Give

When we were leaving this movie, my wife said that it felt too much like the YA novel it was based on. I had no clue it was a book. I thought director George Tillman Jr. (Soul Food) just made a movie based on Tupac’s T.H.U.G. L.I.F.E. acronym.

Starr Carter is played wonderfully by Amandla Stenberg, who was also good in The Hunger Games and the cheesy Everything, Everything. Starr is perfectly named, because she is a bit of a star among her peers. In the poor neighborhood where she lives, she has friends and family that love her. In the private prep school she attends, she’s a star basketball player, that has a good looking white boyfriend. That occasionally brings jealous stares from some girls, but she can deal with that.

I realized early on that, despite liking Starr, I disliked almost everything else about this movie. Starting with her uninteresting explanatory narration that tells us things we can see for ourselves and don’t need to be told via voice-over.

The next thing that bothered me was how when she’s with the friends in her ‘hood, they grill her about a frumpy outfit she’s wearing. When it comes to fashion, she seems to merely care about her sneakers. Her friend also talks about beating the crap out of another girl, and soon, shots are fired. How does this make us like anybody at this party? All it did for me was make me think…if the cops show up, they have a reason to. Just as I’d think that if loud, blonde, preppy white high school kids were having a kegger with underage drinking and hazing going on. Now, when we see the various shops in her town (including the store her dad owns), that makes us care more about the people living in this lower-income area of Atlanta. This party, did the opposite.

One thing that impressed me, was how they did the scene where her childhood crush and friend Khalil (Algee Smith) is killed during a traffic stop by a white police officer (Drew Starkey). The first time I had ever seen this scene done was in 1981 on the TV show The White Shadow (about a white basketball coach at an inner-city school). The players are being harassed by the cops, and star player Thorpe (Kevin Hooks) pulls out a pen to write down an officer’s badge number. The cop sees Thorpe’s hand go into his pocket and quickly pull something out, and shoots.

It was powerful then, and it was powerful here. And what was a pleasant surprise is that it’s not some racist cop being a bully to them (although my wife argues that point with me, thinking the fact that he pulled them over for merely crossing two lanes without signalling was a chickens**t reason). He asked Khalil to keep his hands on the roof of his car (after Khalil was arguing). He instead reached into the car (despite Starr pleading with him not to), and he pulled out a hairbrush while talking to her.

The rapper Common (who I’m sick of seeing on screen) is Starr’s uncle, and he’s a cop. That adds a few interesting dynamics, but the movie just starts doing it all by the numbers. You can see where all of this is going, and it just doesn’t work.

There’s a former Black Panther who is Starr’s father (Russell Hornsby). There’s a mom (Regina Hall) that cares about her family. Obviously, things start to go south for the family, and the various friends and classmates.

So many of the characters in this are one or two-dimensional, which is something that sinks a lot of these YA stories. More complicated characters are much more interesting to watch.

My wife thought Anthony Mackie was miscast as the drug lord. That’s a decent point.

In the much better movie Blindspotting, that racist cop shot a guy in the back, who was fleeing the scene. There’s never an excuse for that. The screenplay by Audrey Wells (who passed away a few weeks ago) is uneven, which is surprising, considering she had written Under the Tuscan Sun and The Truth About Cats and Dogs (although she did blow it with A Dog’s Purpose, Shall We Dance, and George of the Jungle). Once in awhile, the dialogue would be clever. I liked Starr saying that if her white friends use black slang, it makes them cool. If she uses it, it makes her hood. Although, I’d tell her most adults feel a lot of that slang is dopey, and we rarely think white folks are hip when uttering it, yo.

The script is ambitious, but rather melodramatic. Go find Blindspotting and Sorry to Bother You, for much more enjoyable stories that dabble in some of the same themes.

This gets 1 ½ stars out of 5.