Amandla Stenberg swaps the future dystopia of “The Darkest Minds” for the present-day real-life dystopia in “The Hate U Give”, an adaptation of the hugely successful young adult novel dealing with the shooting of an unarmed black teenager by a white police officer.
Starr Carter (Stenberg) who lives in the black suburb of Garden Heights but attends a private high school in a white neighbourhood. She finds herself living a comfortable double-life, fitting in in both worlds until one night after a house party when her childhood friend Khalil is driving her home and is pulled over by the Police for a minor traffic infraction but thanks to a jumpy police officer, Khalil is shot and killed. In the aftermath of his death and funeral, as citizens across the city demand justice, Starr must summon up the courage to find her voice and speak the truth.
The first hour of this movie provides a casually chilling, immersive experience of the merest glimpse of what it must be like to be black in today’s America. The constant fear, the lack of faith in justice, the constant second-guessing of every single authority figure is terrifying. This is no simple ‘us and them’ morality tale though. It’s no tone-deaf ‘there are good people on both sides’ traducery but it does show that there are malevolent individuals on either side of the divide the movie explores.
It’s this balance between the enemy without and enemy within that powers the film through its final, more melodramatic final hour as Starr comes under pressure to testify as to what happened from Khalil’s family and activist lawyers while the local drug dealer King (Anthony Mackie) and her white school friends provide pressure to keep silent. It’s a cunning nod to this tension that sees K J Apa cast as Starr’s white boyfriend Chris. He’s styled to appear as a typical shallow frat boy (and is introduced as a typically overly horny teenager) who runs through nearly every white woke cliché you can imagine and you keep expecting him to reveal his ‘true colours’ even though he turns out to be sweet and genuine.
The screenplay, by Audrey Wells who sadly passed away days before the film opened loses a little of the powerful, almost primal fight or flight tension of the story as the soap opera drama takes over, it’s still a potent and essential movie. The cast are great, particularly the magnificent Regina Hall and Russell Hornsby as Starr’s parents but the film orbits Stenberg and it’s to her your eye is constantly drawn, such is her star power.