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Toronto International Film Festival 2018: The Hate U Give – Review

 
 
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Release Date: 7 September [Canada]
 
Director: George Tillman Jr.
 
Writer: Audrey Wells [Screenplay] - Angie Thomas [Novel]
 
Cast: Amandla Stenberg - Regina Hall - Russell Hornsby
 
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Posted September 16, 2018 by

Toronto International Film Festival 2018: The Hate U Give – Review

The Hate U Give opens with a shot of a simple suburban neighborhood, and a seemingly regular family sitting at their dining table. The conversation they’re having, however, tells us that this is no ordinary setting, no ordinary family.

Maverick Carter (Russell Hornsby) is speaking to his two oldest children, Starr (Kai N. Ture) and Seven (Hassan Welch). The youngest child is too small but that doesn’t exempt him from being part of the conversation as he sits in his mother, Lisa (Regina Hall)’s, lap. Maverick is teaching his children an extremely important lesson – what to do when they are pulled over by the police. Because that is what an African-American father needs to teach his children in the 21st century. The lessons young Starr learns that day will be the most important of her life.

Toronto International Film Festival 2018: The Hate U Give - Review

A few years later, Starr (Amandla Stenberg) is a happy-go-lucky student at the predominantly white school Williamson. Gang violence forced the Carters to send their children away from the neighbourhood, but it puts Starr in a unique situation. She is constantly straddling two worlds; sometimes she doesn’t get it quite right.

But, this frustration will soon seem minor to her. At a party held in Starr’s neighbourhood, she reconnects with an old friend, Khalil (Algee Smith). On the way home, they are pulled over by a policeman. Khalil just wants to know why he was pulled over but the officer gets agitated and aggressive. The night started with a party; it ends with Khalil’s murder.

As a witness to these horrifying events, Starr must testify against the officer. But, there are suspicions that Khalil was mixed up with drug lord King (Anthony Mackie). Starr’s testimony might put her in the sights of both King and the police. How is she meant to get justice for her friend if she, and her family, are afraid for their lives?

This is a hard-hitting film, as one would expect since the subject-matter deals with police brutality against the African-American community. But, The Hate U Give’s political relevance doesn’t end there. It goes further in its exploration of the effects of such a crime. How does the family cope? What truths can the witness share? How does the police force investigate one of their own? These are the questions many wonder about real-world incidents and this film delves right into them.

There are moments in this film that will have you gasping, as it did with the Toronto International Film Festival audience I was among. It is designed that way and is much better for it. Director George Tillman Jr. knows how to eke out the horror from tragedy. The pacing is excellent throughout; one never feels that the film is lagging, nor does it feel overstuffed. The characters all get as much characterisation as they need, and none are shortchanged to make way for others.

Audrey Wells’ screenplay based on Angie Thomas’ novel is one of the more well-adapted screenplays we have seen in a while. She manages to translate the best parts of the novel for the screen, while improving on certain aspects, like the ending of the novel, which gave mixed messages. All in all, this film is an accomplished, and faithful, adaptation of its source material.

Megan Lawless, Amandla Stenberg, and Sabrina Carpenter

In Amandla Stenberg, the film has a good actor who manages to bring a great deal of nuance to protagonist Starr. At the start of the film, her performance seemed wooden, but it progressed beautifully throughout the rest of the film. She is particularly strong during the emotional scenes but she is absolutely breath-taking when portraying Starr’s repressed rage.

Unfortunately, despite her skills, Stenberg may not have been the best choice for this role. Yes, she is an excellent actor, but for a film that delves into the heart of racism, was it wise to have chosen a biracial actor to portray the protagonist? She herself has talked about her biracial privilege in the past, as well as the problems that she has faced as a biracial person. There are incredibly important messages spread throughout the film, many of them proclaimed by Starr, but it feels disingenuous when coming from an actor who likely has not had the same experiences as the majority of the community. Stenberg does put in a heart-breaking performance and perhaps that will be enough for some to overlook her ethnicity vis-à-vis the ethnicity of her character, but I expect this to be a point of contention for many.

The supporting cast are good, but not great. Russell Hornsby and Regina Hall give strong performances as the Carter parents, but lack the chemistry the audience are told they share.

Anthony Mackie has little to do but stand at the back and glower at people, which he does very well, but we have become accustomed to better performances from him than this. Issa Rae as Starr’s lawyer-activist-mentor April Ofrah is never on screen long enough to make an impact, which is a shame considering her potential.

K.J. Apa, who was brought in last minute to replace Kian Lawley, plays Starr’s white boyfriend Chris with the same earnestness that he plays Archie Andrews in Riverdale. His more emotional scenes from the book were removed so he wasn’t really taxed in this film.

DF-05926 – L-R: Russell Hornsby, Regina Hall, Amandla Stenberg, and Common in Twentieth Century Fox’s THE HATE U GIVE. Photo Credit: Erika Doss.

I was most disappointed in Common, who plays Starr’s Uncle Carlos, a police officer who works with the man who shot Khalil. Common is given an incredibly important scene near the end of the film, which he fails to put any enthusiasm into. He looks like he is reciting the lines, not feeling them, and that completely takes the audience out of one of the film’s most powerful messages.

The choppy performances still cannot take away from the importance of this film’s politics. Combining discussions on #BlackLivesMatter, police brutality, institutional and casual racism, gang violence, and the disproportionate burden of drugs that falls on the shoulders of the African-American community, The Hate U Give packs in a great deal of politics, while still remaining coherent, logical, and powerful.

This is the kind of film that Hollywood needs to make more of – politically relevant, visually appealing, and empowering for minorities. One can only hope for great things for The Hate U Give come awards season; it deserves it.

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Louis Skye
@LouisSkye77
bloggingatwarp10.blogspot.com
Freelance Contributor

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