The Hate U Give was the first book I read in 2018, and for good reason. The past year had been a total dumpster fire, politically. I couldn’t get long time friends and compassionate family members to understand the angst and tragedy of what was happening in our nation. My city, one of the most racially diverse and inequitable in the country, was going through a bit of renaissance, and yet our churches are still woefully segregated. I very simply went looking for more empathy. I wanted my southern, white heart to understand better a movement and a community and a people that my people were willfully ignoring. Angie Thomas delivered empathy in spades. I cried through chapter after chapter of Starr’s story. My heart broke for her divided life, for her hard choices. It soared when she found her voice. And I felt shame that it would take fiction to bring to life the reality of police brutality to communities like mine.
By the time I read the book, it was of course already optioned, cast and on its way to the big screen. It was a veritable phenomenon for all the valid reasons that important books make it: superb craftsmanship, deeply real and relatable characters, honest world-building, true stakes. The movie? Has it all too.
If you are unfamiliar with the premise, The Hate U Give is Starr Carter’s story: a high school junior from Garden Heights, the “hood” of her fictional town. Her father is an ex-gang member who served a few years in prison when she was young for taking the heat for the local crime lord, King. Her mother is a nurse in a local clinic. Her uncle is a police officer. Her brothers and she are enrolled in a wealthy, suburban private school called Williamson, where she puts her hoodies and her slang in her back pocket and becomes a version of herself palatable to the kids in the hall.
Her world gets small real quick when she becomes the only witness to her childhood friend’s murder at the hand of an officer who pulled him over for failure to signal. Instead of being able to compartmentalize “Williamson Starr” and “Garden Heights Starr,” she is now fixated on the brutal realities of her life in Garden Heights, internalizing her own fear and pain and guilt into a powder keg of teenage emotion and adult stakes. She’s forced to hide the truth of her testimony, and it eats at her. But coming forward can hurt her family, can get them killed, and more. The struggle between private and public, truth and justice, silence and speaking is potent from the outset.
Amandla Stenberg plays Starr to pitch perfection. You never doubt her youth, her resilience, her fear, her strength. She is a powerhouse in every scene. It’s frightening to see the emotions of your own children on the face of a stranger on the big screen, but I’ve seen my 14 year old disgusted with a bigoted friend, determined to speak her mind, and even terrified she’s going to die. Amandla hits every note with nuance and honesty. There are subtle shifts of speech, of the ways she tilts her hips and her stride that denote the differences between Williamson Starr and Garden Heights Starr. There were many moments where the break in her voice or the look on her face brought tears to my eyes.
I could go on about the rest of the cast. Regina Hall, who plays her mother, should just go ahead and claim her namesake as QUEEN because she is flawless as a no-nonsense mother. I hadn’t known what to expect from Randall Hornsby, who plays her dad Mav, but I was blown away by his stoic and strong performance.
You don’t need me to sell you on seeing this movie. You’ve heard about the book, and you’ve seen the trailer. It has 97% on Rotten Tomatoes. Angie Thomas’ twitter is perfect. But I want you to know that if you are making plans to go to the cinema in the next few weeks, and something seems lighter, easier, better … stop and go see this first. It’s not just an entertaining movie; it’s an important one. This weekend? I’m taking my daughters.