Words: Giulia Lombardo
As we are still in February, which is Black History Month in the US, we wanted to dedicate this review to one amazing movie that surely deserves more visibility; a movie that we recognise as the embodiment of the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement, and it reminds all of us that one thing is to say and believe that ‘Black Lives Matter’, another thing is living it.
Police shooting against unarmed black people are such a tragic part of American everyday life, and that it is no wonder that the cinema feels the need to have its say on the subject, but the harsh reality is already too much for most of the audience. ‘The Hate U Give’ seems to be the exception to this rule, largely because of the powerful and outspoken approach with which director George Tillman Jr. (‘Soul Food’, ‘Notorious’) revisited the best-selling young adult book of 2017 by Angie Thomas, translating all the strength, the truth and the power from the book to the big screen.
As we mentioned, it’s one thing to say Black Lives Matter, but it’s another thing to live it. And this is the proof that faces Starr Carter (Amandla Stenberg), a 16-year-old African-American girl who finds it easier to ignore the racial crimes that permeate the poor neighbourhood where she lives by attending a private school, with a white-person majority, in the city. Starr’s mother (Regina Hall) thinks that school is a way out for the children, but deep inside Starr knows that hers is another reality.
Stenberg hits every nuance of the role that continues to challenge her, which becomes devastating as the character realises she can no longer be neutral to the situation. The breaking point comes when her friend Khalil (Algee Smith) is killed by a white cop (Drew Starkey) who mistakes Khalil’s hairbrush for a gun. Starr witnesses everything and she finds herself at a crossroads. In a flashback at the beginning of the film, Tillman shows us the Carter family struggling with the “talk”. In a summary of social activist group the Black Panther’s ten-point program, Starr’s father Maverick (the exceptional Russ Hornsby), a reformed drug dealer, explains to Starr and her brothers how to deal with the police. The key words are collaborate, stay calm and always keep your hands in sight. The implication is: don’t create problems. But it is precisely Starr’s growing activism that makes the film a volcano of emotions.
The self-representation of the Black community is grasped here with emblematic lucidity about issues such as language, look, family and community descent, social, political, and generational positioning. The story brings together the mood of ‘Straight Outta Compton’ in suburban neighbourhoods with teen plots between the school halls of an institution largely attended by uptown whites, and although it doesn’t always show the best tone to deal with the many dramatic turns of the story, Tillman knows when to swell with feeling and anger to load the images with sincerity, with a look that passes with ease from underlining a young adult narrative to an almost documentary-like take.
The feeling of strength and power is conveyed by the soundtrack as well, composed by Dustin O’Halloran. The album was released on October 5, 2019, and there are many tracks by various artists, mainly hip-hop and rap songs. Among them ‘Hold You Down’ (feat. Emanny) by Jadakiss, ‘DNA’ by Kendrick Lamar, ‘Hold On’ (feat. Rick Ross) by Pusha T and many others, including Billie Eilish’s ‘Ocean Eyes’ and ‘Bury a Friend’. The songs used in the trailers are ‘Keep Ya Head Up’ by Tupac, ‘Hold On’ by Pusha T and ‘Goosebumps’ by Travis Scott.
‘I got power, poison, pain and joy inside my DNA.’ Just as Kendrick Lamar sings in ‘DNA’, ‘The Hate U Give’ goes right to the point. Why? Because to enforce justice, reason and equality, it is necessary to bring out the power of one’s own voice.