Successfully displaying the intersections of activism, family and young adult life, The Hate You Give is a powerful young adult film that should be on everyone’s watch list. Directed by George Tillman Jr., the film follows Starr Carter as she struggles to decide how to respond to the murder of her friend; should she grieve him in silence, or go public about the event and become a social activist? Unlike more common young-adult films, which usually center on optimistic teenagers coming-to-age in an often non-threatening environment, The Hate You Give reveals the cruel experiences of some teenagers of today. By giving power to these stories, The Hate You Give does something extraordinary.
Starr Carter (Amandla Stenberg) attends a mostly white private school with her brother, Seven Carter (Lamar Johnson). Their parents Lisa Carter (Regina Hall) and Maverick Carter (Russell Hornsby) deliberately sent them to this school to get a prep school education. However, this often causes Starr to code-switch in an attempt to fit in with both her private school classmates and her friends and family back home. After Starr witnesses longtime friend and first crush Khalil (Algee Smith) get killed at the hands of a police officer, she struggles to return to her normal self, setting the stage for the rest of the film.
Khalil’s death was not the first Starr had witnessed in her young life. When she was a child, she saw her friend get shot and killed. Wrestling with the guilt and sadness of not having shared the events of that death, primarily in regards to the shooter, Starr feels she must now stand up for her friend and community. She begins getting into verbal arguments with students at her school, especially when they use Khalil’s death as a form of trendy activism, and has to convince her mother that going public with having witnessed Khalil’s death is the right thing for her. These events lead Starr to come into herself, and with the help of April Ofrah (Issa Rae), an activist in Starr’s neighborhood, she is able to conduct a televised interview and testify in front of a grand jury.
This leads the audience to one of the film’s most important themes - the conflict between activism, which is very public, and personal safety, privacy and complacency. Starr’s mother wants her to keep her status as a witness private - primarily because she knows it will bring unwanted attention to their community and potentially make it unsafe. When Starr goes on national television to talk about Khalil, she accidentally starts of a chain of events that causes her family to come into conflict with police and other members of her community. Her relationships with her friends and her boyfriend also struggle because of this. Nevertheless, Starr decides this trial, and this issue, is much bigger than these clashes in her personal life and proceeds forward.
The Hate You Give is a film worth watching - based on a book worth reading - for young adults, activists, folks that are both, and folks that are neither. The emotional performances the characters give will leave you impassioned, impatient, and roused. Amandla Stenberg’s performance showcases the anguish, fatigue, and anger that may arise in the lives and work of young activists. Hollywood is not a model for activism; however, this film encourages us to look into our own lives, and at the young activists around us, and respect the work they have completed and the seeds they have planted. We need to give them their roses, now.