“The Hate U Give” receives its title from the rapper Tupac Shakur, who created the “THUG LIFE” acronym, standing for ‘the hate u give little infants f**ks everybody’ and regarding the cycle of societal violence. This film, based on a best selling novel, revolves around a teen girl named Starr and opens with a particularly moving scene in which her father is giving “the talk.” Most people assume this to be the talk that many adolescent teenagers receive from their parents about sex, but for Starr’s family and many others, “the talk” is a declaration of racism in America.
Starr’s mother Lisa did not want her children to become involved in the gang violence or drug culture rampant in their hometown of Garden Heights, which leads her to enroll Starr and her siblings, Seven and Sekani, at Williamson Prep. It’s a fancy, predominantly white private school where Starr begins to lead a very divided life. Her personality at home and with friends changes while at school, where she refrains from using slang and doesn’t want to give anyone a reason to call her “too ghetto.” Although her white classmates use slang terms, when Starr uses those same words it makes her “hood,” as she fears.
Starr’s divided personalities are somewhat of a downfall for her. But when her childhood friend, Khalil, is shot in front of her by a white policeman, she finally breaks through her emotional barriers and is able to find her voice. Starr is forced to battle these two personas and soon decides to overcome the fact that her white friends would soon know about her life in Garden Heights. Starr also has to worry about a drug lord would target her for speaking the truth about Khalil’s involvement in drug dealing. With all these obstacles, Starr is still able to find her meaning in life: to speak the truth about African American communities and how circumstances need to change.
The film starts with an intimate story of a young girl’s high school experience but takes a turn toward major political controversy, emphasizing the conflict between African American communities and the police. There are countless scenes filled with police brutality and aggression. There is one scene in particular that highlights this issue. It entails a large peaceful protest that ends with horrible violence. The police begin to throw tear gas and use force to arrest people. The film’s take on police oppression becomes evident during this scene.
There are complex moments and relationships that aren’t given enough time. I found this to be especially true in scenes with Starr’s boyfriend Chris, a white male from her prep school. Chris tries to be a supportive boyfriend throughout the film, but when Chris finds out Starr had kept the shooting a secret, he says the overused statement, “I don’t see color.”
This also occurs with Starr’s uncle, Carlos, who is a policeman. When Starr and her family stay the night at his house, he discusses how it feels as a police officer. His statement hits a rather soft and angry spot for Starr.
“The Hate U Give” wants to focus on how relevant the cultural differences are between each character, but this shifts the focus away from the film’s plot. By the end, Starr’s character is inspiring, but other characters aren’t as developed. The film expands on controversial issues, but it doesn’t always embed these issues in the characters and plot. While it could’ve done a better job of incorporating character development and narrative into its message, it is still a good look at the cultural divide in America.