Film review: The Hate U Give a powerful drama about US race and police violence

Director George Tillman Jr's emotionally charged drama The Hate U Give rages against US racial division and police brutality yet contains an undercurrent of hope, writes Damon Smith

Amandla Stenberg gives a powerhouse lead performance in The Hate U Give
Damon Smith

TAKING its title from the cautionary message inked into rapper Tupac Shakur's THUG LIFE tattoo, George Tillman Jr's emotionally charged drama rages against racial division and police violence in a 21st-century America which affirms its constitutional right to bear arms.

The Hate U Give is sensitively adapted by Audrey Wells from Angie Thomas's young adult novel, which chronicles the anguished rites of passage of a teenager, who finds her voice in the most tragic circumstances.

Amandla Stenberg (Rue in The Hunger Games) delivers a gut-wrenching lead performance as a 16-year-old, who zigzags uncomfortably between worlds of white privilege and black indignation.

Wells's script confidently walks a tightrope between tear-stained cries from the heart and boisterous humour as it sketches the dynamics between a family living in a predominantly black neighbourhood in the chokehold of drugs and gang warfare.

Children are taught from an early age to rest their hands on a car's dashboard when – not if – they are pulled over by police.

"Daddy says our life is here because our people are here," explains Starr Carter (Stenberg).

She lives in Garden Heights, Georgia, with ex-con father Maverick (Russell Hornsby), who turned his back on local drug dealer King (Anthony Mackie) to raise a family with wife Lisa (Regina Hall).

Their brood includes Starr's half-brother Seven (Lamar Johnson) and cherubic younger brother Sekani (TJ Wright).

To ensure her babies have a brighter future, Lisa sends the children to predominantly white Williamson Prep, where Starr shares classes with her boyfriend Chris (KJ Apa).

The teenage heroine keeps the two sides of her existence separate until the fateful night she witnesses a white police officer shoot her unarmed childhood friend, Khalil (Algee Smith) dead.

Racked with grief, Starr shoulders a heavy burden to speak up for the deceased.

However, testifying against a cop could lead to reprisals.

Uncle Carlos (Common), a detective on the same force as the suspended officer, offers comforting words of wisdom while activist group Just Us For Justice urges Starr to come forward.

As protests light the fuse on a powder keg of raw emotion, Starr embraces her family's history with fierce pride.

"If you don't see my blackness, you don't see me," she tearfully informs Chris.

The Hate U Give doesn't project Starr's journey of empowerment through a rose-tinted lens, pretending that one girl can magically salve the deep emotional wounds of her divided community in the space of 133 impassioned minutes.

Tillman Jr's film ripples with fury and despair, but there is an undercurrent of hope that courses through every handsome frame.

Stenberg's powerhouse lead performance is complemented by splendid supporting turns from Hall and Hornsby, the latter falling back on teachings of the Black Panther movement to encourage his children to stand tall at the very moment they feel like admitting defeat. Because all lives matter.

THE HATE U GIVE (12A, 133 mins) Drama/Romance. Amandla Stenberg, Regina Hall, Russell Hornsby, Anthony Mackie, Common, KJ Apa, Lamar Johnson, TJ Wright, Algee Smith. Director: George Tillman Jr.

RATING: 7.5/10

Released: October 22 (UK & Ireland)

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