Taking its title from Tupac Shakur’s Thug Life acronym (The Hate U Give Little Infants Fucks Everyone) and inspired by the same shooting that informed Fruitvale Station, George Tillman Jr.’s adaptation of Angie Thomas’s novel is a teen movie with a difference. At its heart is a 16-year-old girl dealing with all the usual travails of adolescence: peer pressure, boyfriends, expectations. Yet Starr Carter (Amandla Stenberg) has an extra burden to bear: that of being the only witness to a friend’s unwarranted killing by a trigger-happy cop.
The Black Lives Matter undercurrent gives The Hate U Give a relevance and topicality far beyond the teen pic’s normal parameters. Even before the shooting though, Tillman Jr.’s film proves uncommonly astute at delineating the code-switching tightrope its young heroine must walk between the two worlds in which she operates.
At her upscale private school, she’s a mild-mannered poster child for racial integration, coolly accepting of her classmates’ casual bigotries and fetishising of black culture. Back in the ghetto she calls home, in contrast, she’s a whip-smart latchkey kid with an ex-convict father (Russell Hornsby), a hard-working mum (Regina Hall), and a powder-keg neighbourhood just outside her front door that crackles with gunfire when the sun goes down.
After a routine traffic stop ends with Khalil (Detroit’s Algee Smith) breathing his last in her arms, Starr sets out to see justice done in his name – a quest that soon puts her on a collision course with the police, the judicial system, and the local w crime kingpin (Anthony Mackie) for whom Khalil worked. Screenwriters Audrey Wells (The Truth About Cats and Dogs) and Tina Mabry deftly crank up the tension as Starr prepares herself for the grand jury appearance that will decide if ‘Officer 115’ pays for his actions. Yet she also finds time for some Guess Who-inflected humour: Hornsby’s flabbergasted response to the prom-night arrival of his daughter’s white beau offers a moment of tension-easing laughter.
Rightly being talked about as a potential Oscar contender, The Hate U Give could possibly have shed 20 minutes without losing any of its forcefulness and resonance. Yet any concerns over its occasional flabbiness are quickly dispatched by a riveting performance from The Hunger Games veteran Stenberg that fizzes with intelligence, compassion and moral authority. Back when her casting was announced, some fans of the book voiced the view that her role should have gone to a darker-skinned actress. Stenberg repays the hate they gave with a charismatic, magnetic, and startlingly mature turn that shows that she, like the teen movie genre itself, has triumphantly come of age.
- Release date: Out now (US)/October 22, 2018 (UK)
- Certificate: PG-13 (US)/12A (UK)
- Running time: 133 mins