The Hate U Give
“Living is easy with eyes closed,” that is a lyric in The Beatles’ song “Strawberry Fields Forever” and it reflects what many in the privileged western world choose to do when the truths of the world appear on the news. The history of black people in America (and everywhere else in the world) is one of continued hardship after hardship. But for many in non-black America, after the Civil Rights movements of the 1960s, things finally seemed to be “alright.” It seemed that way, despite spurts of racism in the news with the Central Park Five in the 80s, or Rodney King in the 90s. However, with the invention of the iPhone in 2007 things changed. Suddenly there were police shootings towards unarmed black men happening constantly, what caused this change? The tragic reality is that nothing changed at all, only the ability to record it.
The Hate U Give is the story of Starr (Amandla Stenberg) a black teenager who lives two separate lives. On the one hand, she lives in her black working class neighborhood, but on the other she goes to a school in the affluent white neighborhood. Starr is forced to have two personalities for these two lives, a startling social commentary by the film alone. But the film goes further having Starr embroiled in an altercation with the police, and making her choose between her two identities.
The film is angry, but it isn’t the blinding anger of injustice that sometimes fuels Spike Lee’s films, which prompts him to be selective with his portrayals and facts. In this film, director George Tillman Jr. shows all sides of the arguments, while pitting his own view with evidence (and that of the book the film is based on). The Hate U Give feels more like a testament or essay, like Ta Nehisi Coates’ famed book: “Between the World and Me.”
The core of the film is Starr’s journey with her family; we see as they navigate and fight the circumstances they’re put in. This perspective gives the film its emotional weight, and actress Amandla Stenberg carries the responsibility with pride and power. The supporting cast is littered with actors little known to mainstream audiences, yet they prove their worth, especially Russell Hornsby, who plays Starr’s father. However a sub-plot involving a gangster kingpin (Anthony Mackie), weighs the film down unnecessarily. While not boring, this subplot does slow down the pace so that the main message in the film fades from the audience’s view at points.
The film makes the two worlds of white and black seem completely apart, with the blindness of privilege being the main obstacle to get over. The film itself is only a peek at the injustices that black people face in most Western societies. Simply watching The Hate U Give doesn’t mean that the viewer now understands the hardships suffered by black America; instead, the film is an “opening of the eyes.” While not a solution, the film helps society take a step in the right direction by addressing the continued presence of racial problems.