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LFF 2018: The Hate U Give review - activism movie that doesn't give teens enough credit

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Verdict: A mixed bag that needed to commit more fully.

The Hate U Give little infants fucks everybody. Tu Pac is the guiding presence presiding over this Black Lives Matter based on the YA novel by Angie Thomas, which hits incredibly hard at times, and falls unfortunately flat at others.

The power of this film is undeniable, but its biggest weakness is its misunderstanding of its target audience: teenagers. It’s at its best when it gets caught up in the profound events of the story and forgets to have its characters use cringey slang and talk about unfollowing each other’s Tumblrs.

Amandla Stenberg (The Hunger Games, The Darkest Minds) plays Starr Carter, a girl caught between her black neighbourhood and her fancy white school. This means we’re subjected to a very 90s voiceover explaining things like, though her white boyfriend may seem like he’s appropriating black culture, it’s okay because it makes Starr laugh.

The crux of the film, however, is the community protesting police brutality after Starr witnesses the murder of her friend at the hands of a cop — intense and emotional material which Stenberg handles surprisingly well. 

The stand out of the film is undeniably Russel Hornsby as Starr’s father, who characterises the best of the neighbourhood — family values, community spirit, and a fist held high against in justice. Scenes in which he imparts wisdom to his daughter, in which he faces off against the police himself, are so proudly moving that they seem like they’re from a different movie than Anthony Mackie’s cartoonishly menacing drug lord, or Starr’s insufferable white friends.

The fundamentally radical message of the film: the protests against systemic injustice, is somewhat undermined by a certain amount of pandering so as not to alienate a white audience. Starr’s white boyfriend says “I don’t see colour,” and though she reacts to the statement, two minutes later it’s forgotten, and he doesn’t seem to learn anything from the interaction. Starr also has a blatantly racist white friend, who’s tempered by the ‘always shocked and horrified at her racism’ other white friend. Just so the audience know there are some Good White People™ out there.

She fears being labelled “ghetto” by her peers at school, so much so that she mocks the “ghetto” qualities of her friends back home, and though Starr undergoes much character development throughout the film, the intersection of race and class isn’t something that she fully gets to the bottom of. 

The film somewhat does a disservice to the teen audience it’s aimed at, assuming they need to be spoon-fed by creating a character as naive as Starr. That being said, there’s no denying that it exemplifies the power that young people can have in exacting real change in the world.

A real mixed bag of a film that ties everything up with a neat bow at the end, it’ll perhaps leave some people feeling charged up with energy to go fight the system, and others rolling their eyes at the bizarrely happy ending.

The content and the tone are disparate throughout, and it seems to be a film aimed at a generation far too woke to need the call to action, and far too cynical to believe the saccharine idealism it’s selling. That being said, you can’t knock its core values — I just wish it had committed more fully.

The Hate U Give is in cinemas on October 22nd.

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