This filming of Angie Thomas’ 2017 YA novel is strong, angry and tense, with a terrific lead performance from Amandla Stenberg.
Starr Carter (Stenberg) is a 16 year old Atlanta native who lives in the fictional black neighbourhood of Garden Heights and attends the predominately white Williamson Prep high school. Early tense flashbacks show how Starr’s Dad Maverick (Russell Hornsby), an ex-con, taught his kids how to behave with cops so that they don’t get arrested or shot, and she lives with the perpetual fear of violence in her own ‘hood while trying hard not to be “too black” at school.
Starr has a nice white boyfriend named Chris (Kiwi actor KJ Apa), who she’s afraid to introduce to her Dad, but she also has a sweet, flirty friendship with childhood pal Khalil Harris (Algee Smith), who she winds up hanging out with one night after escaping a party that turned dangerous. They’re pulled over by a rookie cop who mistakes a hairbrush for a gun and shoots Khalil dead, and this becomes a national story and the source of increasing anger throughout the community, especially when, of course, a grand jury fails to indict the white officer.
Encouraged by activist and civil rights lawyer April Ofrah (Issa Rae), Starr is interviewed on television with her face blurred out, but it makes no difference, and soon her home and school personas are no longer cautiously separate and the people around her are justifiably itching for a riot. A further threat also lurks in the form of King, leader of the drug-dealing, fear-mongering gang the King Lords, and he’s portrayed by Anthony Mackie, who’s very scary and a long way from his cool role as Falcon in the Avengers movies.
Co-produced and directed by George Tillman Jr., it’s too long at 133 minutes – suggesting that recently-late script adaptor Audrey Wells was uneasy about cutting anything for fear of upsetting the fans – and yet it’s still gripping, even with such an unnecessarily epic running time.
It’s all held together by Stenberg’s subtle but complex and moving turn (which is no small achievement as she’s in just about every scene), and while definitely directed at adolescents, that doesn’t mean that anyone over 18 can’t enjoy it or be moved by the passion and quietly stirring rage. It’s also worth noting that much of the detail here – and that title (THUG) – are taken from Tupac Shakur, and he would surely have been impressed, and rightly horrified by the final act.
The Hate U Give (M) is in cinemas from January 31