A Real Teen Hero Rises
I saw The Hate U Give movie. It should be required viewing for everyone who says things like “it should be required viewing.” The Hate U Give takes on tough issues with courage and wit and skill. Screenwriter Audrey Wells and director George Tillman, Jr. will probably win awards. But if they don’t, they’ve still created something remarkable. Scenes of domestic comedy and teen romance mix with shockingly realistic violence. Every sentiment feels earned and every joke genuine.
Based on a much-loved YA novel, the movie opens with a happy Atlanta-area black family sitting around the kitchen table. Tattooed dad gives his little kids the talk about what to do if they’re ever pulled over by the cops and passes out some old but still relevant Black Panther literature. He’s tough but funny and affectionate, a reformed gangsta Mike Brady. It’s been a long time since a movie has portrayed a family as loving, solid, and moral as this one.
Those lessons pay off for his daughter Starr, who grows into a teen by the next scene. She narrates her way through the rest of the movie, though not, mercifully, through every moment. By day, she goes to a mostly-white prep school and then gets those goosebumps every time she goes to a black party on the weekends.
THE HATE U GIVE ★★★★ (4/5 stars)
Directed by: George Tillman, Jr.
Written by: Audrey Wells, based on the novel by Angie Thomas
Starring: Amandla Sternberg, Regina Hall, Russell Hornsby, Anthony Mackie, Common
Running time: 133 min.
Amandla Stenberg gives pretty much a perfect performance as Starr, who has to bear witness as a scared cop murders her best friend during a traffic stop. After that, her life grows increasingly complicated and her political consciousness rises. Stenberg doesn’t hit one false note while running through an extraordinary array of emotions. Russell Hornsby is equally as good, though much more stoic, as her dad. The cast includes the much-better-known Anthony Mackie and Common, who shows up for his usual ethically-perfect turn. But they’re really just extras in Sternberg’s amazing Black Lives Matter Afterschool Special performance.
The Hate U Give goes on probably about 12 minutes too long, or maybe I just felt rushed because I had an appointment. The final scenes descend a bit into noisy melodrama and start to feel a little excessively dystopian. But then it pulls back for a calm denouement. By the end, it’s covered police violence, interracial romance, class conflict, high-school cliquishness, drug culture, blended families, black pride and self-reliance, and whether mac-and-cheese is a side dish or a main course, and it’s done so from every possible angle. They don’t make “issue movies” better than this. Plus, there’s a great hip-hop soundtrack. Kendrick Lamar, Tupac, and Travis Scott provide the backdrop, at least until the Hollywood violins take over in the second half.
I also saw The Monsters And Men movie. It’s essentially the exact same movie as The Hate U Give, but with a lower budget, an indie sensibility, and not really much of a plot. Monsters And Men explores the aftermath of the shooting of an Eric Garner-type character in Brooklyn. Three short moody vignettes, all shot in a low-key, realistic style, ensue. The cast gives subtle and effective performances, but there are a lot of shots of them staring glumly at the walls while nothing much happens. There’s also a teen character with a rising politics, but he doesn’t appear for an hour. The movie’s over before his radical conversion can make an impact.
MONSTERS AND MEN ★★★ (3/5 stars)
Directed by: Reinaldo Marcus Green
Written by: Reinaldo Marcus Green
Starring: John David Washington, Anthony Ramos, Kelvin Harrison, Jr.
Running time: 96 min.
Monsters And Men makes about as much an impression as a Village Voice article, RIP. I think one of the characters was named Manny and the cop was Dennis. The kid who becomes radicalized has a name that starts with a Z, or maybe an X. The shooting doesn’t resonate because we barely see the guy who dies before the incident happens. He’s a slogan, not a person. For a real breakdown of the Eric Garner shooting, and why it matters so much, read I Can’t Breathe, Matt Taibbi’s excellent book. Monsters And Men will convert no one, because it’s hard to care about anyone in the frame.
On the other hand, it’s impossible to forget Starr from The Hate U Give. She’s as immortal a teen character as Scout Finch or Huckleberry Finn, an adolescent heroine for all time. She’s as American as sweet potato pie.