“I’m very aware of the fact that the young people I write for today, will be politicians with Twitter accounts tomorrow. I can’t do anything about the current politicians with Twitter accounts, but if I can affect them and I can reach them right now, then maybe, just maybe, 10, 20, 30 years from now, we won’t have to say ‘Black Lives Matter’, it’ll be understood.”
So said Angie Thomas, the writer of the source material at the heart of George Tillman Jr.’s adaptation of The Hate U Give, at its premiere at the BFI London Film Festival 2018. The Hate U Give (2018) is hopefully having a wider impact than Angie currently imagines right now. Released before the US goes to the polls for the midterm elections, probably the most important and decisive election in recent years, The Hate U Give feels like a rallying call for young and old alike, transcending its YA bracket and being both an important text and film for our times.
Witnessing the murder of her childhood friend by a police officer, Starr Carter (the incredible Amandla Stenberg) is catapulted into the centre of events that unveil the disharmony and inequality of her surroundings, from her predominately black local area to the privileged white majority private school she attends in the next town over. Starr takes us through her daily routine of code switching at the opening of the film, all the while juggling a new relationship with her well-meaning if slightly misguided white boyfriend and formative friendships.
Daunting themes are tackled deftly throughout and handled with such maturity that you are often left breathless at the close of vital scenes or conversations. Breaking the boundaries of the typical ‘teen movie’ genre, a label that does not portray the varied subjects and issues that a film with teenage protagonists can and ought to depict (note The Miseducation of Cameron Post this summer), The Hate U Give is a powerful and an oftentimes difficult watch, succeeding in not shying away from the experience of being a person of colour in America, at any age. The film starts as Starr and her siblings are being instructed how to behave when stopped by police by their authoritarian but loving father, played by Russell Hornsby. A shocking but unsurprising exchange that informs the rest of the film at key, harrowing points.
The narrative remains firmly with the family, switching from Starr’s witty and insightful voiceover to the parents’ conflicted discussions, sometimes heard by Starr or watched from afar as she sees those around her remain beholden to a menacing local druglord, played by Anthony Mackie. The Hate U Give lingers on the struggles of living with and moving on from the mistakes of generations past, and as Starr grapples with high school life, her conflicting identities, and a new political and moral awakening in the harshest of circumstances, the Carter family are a compelling unit that offer laughs, warmth and solidarity throughout.
The “politicians with Twitter accounts” of tomorrow are the activists of today and as events unfold, Starr is given an uncompromising view of a broken, divided America. Over the course of the film, she is tasked with picking up the pieces, eventually turning to activism when the system fails her community, leading into the final few scenes that will stay with the viewer and inspire many. A radical teen movie for our troubled times, I recommend you take the time to see this gem.