The phrase “The Hate U Give Little Infants F—s Everybody” gave the hip hop group T-H-U-G-L-I-F-E its name. The sentiment from the late Tupac Shakur meant that the kids you ignore or deride turn into young people who will be a stone in your shoe.
Writer Angie Thomas used that mantra as a title for her bestselling book The Hate U Give, which is inspired by the tragic shooting of Oscar Grant by a transit police officer in 2009 in Oakland, Calif.
In the movie The Hate U Give, Starr Carter (Amandla Stenberg, Hunger Games) has a lot on her shoulders for a 16-year-old. She lives in a Black working class-neighborhood and is the daughter of Maverick, an ex-convict (Russell Hornsby, Fences) who has turned his life around and owns a local grocery store.
Her dad’s past colors his family’s existence every day. He instills in his children basic survival skills for dealing with the police: “Keep your hands where they can see them.” He gives them self-esteem lessons, as well: “Know your rights. Know your worth.”
To give his kids better opportunities, Maverick and his wife Lisa (Regina Hall) send Starr and her brothers Seven (Lamar Johnson) and Sekani (TJ Wright) to a mostly White prep school far from their inner-city home. Living her life in two places is an adjustment; Starr acclimates well. Then one night her worlds are both torn apart and shoved together.
After a late party in the hood, she’s riding in a car with childhood friend Khalil (Algee Smith). A White cop pulls them over and questions them. Starr immediately puts her hands on the dashboard. Khalil is reluctant. When asked to step outside the vehicle, Khalil seems blasé.
There is a deadly incident. Is it a mistake? Standard police procedure? Manslaughter? Khalil’s sudden death changes Starr’s life and destiny. Will she remain silent? Become a witness? Go public?
“The Hate U Give” is a powerful, relevant, earnest and sometimes absolutely heartbreaking instant time capsule — a fictional but wholly authentic slice of American life in the 2010s.
Directed by George Tillman Jr. (“Soul Food,” “Notorious”) with a screenplay by Audrey Wells (who passed away just last week), “The Hate U Give” is indeed a message movie.
Starr’s white classmates at Williamson Prep stage a walkout and wield “Black Lives Matter” signs, but they seem more enthused about having an excuse to get out of school than troubled by the tragedy. When Starr’s boyfriend says he doesn’t see color when he looks at her, she tells him if he doesn’tsee her race, he’s not seeing her at all.
In the meantime, an activist attorney (Issa Rae) is urging Starr to come forward and testify against the officer, even as King threatens violent retribution for Starr and her family if she says too much about what she knows.
Director Tillman has an excellent touch for the quietly impactful scenes with Starr and her family, as well as the news footage-style depictions of marches and protests that go sideways, with tear gas flying in the air and cops pinning down protesters — as well as some protesters using the moment as an excuse to set cars on fire and destroy local businesses.
Yet the film never loses sight of the girl who only wants to go to school, spend time with her family and friends, have a boyfriend, prepare for college and just be sixteen — but doesn’t have the option and probably never had that option from the moment she was born.
“The Hate U Give” is currently in theaters.