The cultural relevance of “The Hate U Give” betrays the superficial nature of its genre and allows the film to serve as a catalyst for important conversations about race and systematic injustice across the globe. The film adaptation of Angie Thomas’ avant-garde novel, which remained on The New York Times Young Adult Bestseller List for fifty weeks after its release in 2017, has lived up to the book’s legendary fiscal success. However, the triumph of the film extends further than its ticket sales and rave reviews – “The Hate U Give” provides a national platform for the experience of blackness in America to be projected on a level that cannot be ignored.
“The Hate U Give” opens with a powerful scene that demonstrates the simultaneous honor and burden of being black. Maverick (played by Russell Hornsby) presents his family with the Black Panther Party’s Ten Point Program and instills in them the understanding that their black identities merit great pride. He tells his children that it is imperative that they never “forget that being black is an honor, because we come from greatness.” In a voice-over, Starr (played by Amandla Stenberg) refers to this conversation as “The Talk”, a discussion that takes a dark turn as Maverick advises his family on how to navigate a biased and unjust world with their minority identities. In a lesson that will soon become painfully relevant, he teaches his children exactly how to act if approached by law enforcement, emphasizing the importance of their complete compliance with officer commands.
Starr is an ever-shifting character who adapts her persona to her surroundings, never fully fitting into either. In Garden Heights, the lower-income neighborhood in which her family resides, Starr is uncomfortable and out-of-place at parties. On the other hand, in Williamson Prep, the wealthy private school she attends in pursuit of a higher quality education, Starr holds her tongue. The dichotomy between her and her classmates, Starr notes, is that while AAVE (African-American Vernacular English) makes them cool, “slang makes me ‘hood.’” Starr hides her relationship with her white boyfriend (played by K.J. Apa) from her father, and hides her home life from her peers at Williamson.
The driving force of the film is the shooting death of Starr’s friend Khalil (played by Algee Smith) in an act of racially charged police violence. This tragedy suddenly plunges Starr into the intimidating world of activism. As members of her community try to silence her, Starr comes to speak on behalf of Khalil, and in so doing, finds her own voice. The movie hyper-realistically depicts the experience of police brutality in America, not only in the physical shooting of Khalil, but in the aftermath of the incident. The film showcases the privileged and ignorant commentary of Hailey (played by Sabrina Carpenter), a white, Williamson friend of Starr. It also portrays the media response, in which Khalil is the character scrutinized as opposed to his killer.
In the era of the Black Lives Matter movement, a film like “The Hate U Give” is more vital than ever. Conversations about ingrained prejudice and a society that lacks empathy and understanding are arising all across the nation, and this film serves as a platform for the black community to collectively raise their voice. The whole world is listening.