Courtesy of 20th Century Fox
From “Blindspotting” to “BlacKkKlansman” this year has given way to old and new voices alike in expressing their commentaries on the current political climate. It would seem that George Tillman Jr now joins those ranks with “The Hate U Give” - and, to be clear, this movie is better than both of those films.
On the heels of an era where unarmed black men are gunned down in the streets, “The Hate U Give” speaks truth to those matters. Though, at times, Tillman’s grasp extends beyond his reach; the leadership behind the camera in this instance should make you forget that he helmed the Nicholas Sparks weepie “The Longest Ride.”
The same can be said for lead actress Amandla Stenberg (she was, tragically, all over “The Darkest Minds”) who turns in a groundbreaking and moving performance as Starr Carter. Lead protagonist and the young black teen who bares witness to a horrific act of police brutality; when her longtime childhood friend Khalil (Algee Smith - whose brief role lights up the entire film) is shot and killed by a police officer. It’s a tough scene to view in any light, but Tillman handles the scope with respect and integrity.
This sparks racial outcry from within the city, as protests and riots punctuate an already devatested community. Starr lives a double life, this because her family can afford to send her to a private school away from her neighborhoods troubled public school system - and is now being forced into a relativity sticky situation. Does she become the beacon for the movement? Or protect her image and family?
A tough circumstance in which Tillman allows his characters to make smart and logical choices. These teens aren’t boggled down by mindless superpowers, their motivated and energised because they want to allocate for what’s right. And with Stenberg in the driver's seat, we feel and see that passion.
Helping keep the peace at home is Starr’s loving parents - (played with earnestness by Regina Hall and Russell Hornsby - the latter of which is finally given a role he can sink his teeth into) - who are constantly guiding Starr and her siblings down a steady path to success (the opening scene in the film depicts Hornsby giving his kids “The Talk” which is him telling eight and nine year olds how to avoid being killed by a police officer). While powerful in their sentiment, those moments can become a bit clunky by comparison. Likewise for the unnecessary and completely robust subplot involving a local gang leader named King (played by Anthony Mackie); the most maddening aspect in Tillman’s near masterpiece. Instead of allowing the focus to stick with Khalli’s death, we get tossed fluff drama that consistently takes the light from more important issues in the narrative.
In other words, when Tillman stays honed in on Stenberg’s catalogue of bottled emotions and fiery rage, “Give” strikes the right chord without being sappy. Thus cementing its status as one of the more deeply moving films on the subject. Contributing a spot of hope in an otherwise dystopic future.
In this case, “The Hate U Give” - based on the bestseller by Angie Thomas - doesn’t condescend the audience (or its characters), rather offering a sparring glimpse that, by telling these stories, we can glide through our racially divided country with the goal of bringing some of us together.
I’m sure screenwriter Audrey Wells (who recently passed away from complications due to cancer) wouldn’t have her legacy persevered any other way.