Starr and her family live in the poor part of town. But her mother pushed for sending Starr and her brother Seven to a prestigious (and mostly white) school. There Starr lives a very different life, downplaying any aspect of herself that might invite the accusation of being “ghetto”. She even has a (white) boyfriend named Chris. Chris is a goofy guy who wants to be a bigger part of her life, but Starr wants to keep he and her friends their separate from the world of her home life.
When one of her oldest friends, Khalil is gunned down by a cop in front of her, Starr’s world rapidly starts to unravel. She tries to retain anonymity, but finds the weight of injustice harder to compartmentalize than the rest of her life has been. As she becomes more vocal, her friendships and family relationships are tested.
Based on the book by Angie Thomas, The Hate U Give is a painful and yet hopeful exploration of blackness in America. Starr’s family has faced a lot of adversity, including her father having been the right hand man to the local drug lord King. After a stint in prison, Maverick Carter turned his life around, working hard to be an honest man with a local business. Her mother Lisa, on the other hand, would like to leave their community for a safer place.
The film might be a hard watch for some whites, especially those who are prone to “blue Lives Matter” ideas. The film does not flinch from challenging the whole problem of such arguments. And the film very deftly offers those defenses first through a black man, Starr’s uncle Carlos. Played by Common, the police officer takes a more middle ground position. In one scene, he calmly explains the struggle police face in a routine traffic stop. And it really seems logical…until she asks what would happen in a white neighborhood. In that moment, he confesses a white man would get a warning before being fired upon.
The film only has one truly sympathetic white character, and he is capable of cringey moments. After learning about Starr being the previously anonymous witness, he pleads that he does not see color. He does, however, prove himself an ally in his willingness to trust and help Starr when she needs his support. But Starr is not a fragile child. Amandla Stenberg portrays her with sweetness, but also an edge. And when she finds her voice, it is a powerful moment.
I think that this film is a very strong rebuke to a culture that likes to pretend racism is no longer an issue of prominence. Emotionally engaging, heart breaking and inspiring, The Hate U Give is a message that cannot be heard too much.