The Hate U Give is about a teenage girl, Starr Carter (Amanda Stenberg), who witnesses the death of her childhood best friend, Khalil Harris (Algee Smith), at the hands of a police officer. Throughout the film, Starr struggles to find her voice and influential power as she deals with balancing two different lifestyles—Garden Heights where she lives with her parents, Lisa (Regina Hall) and Maverick Carter (Russell Hornsby), her half-brother Seven (Lamar Johnson) and little brother Sekani (TJ Wright); and Williamson Prep School. She relies on these identities to represent her separately until they are forced to merge. The film builds on the structure of power, who has it and who does not. This is the repeating narrative of the film and is represented through all of the characters at some point.
Starr is the protagonist of the story and the narrator. Even when we aren’t hearing her voice over action, we get to see her life through her eyes and how she understands it. The camera itself supports that by letting the audience see the uncomfortable racial tension from her point of view, and as if it is happening to us. Starr is in the passenger seat when a cop has pulled her and Khalil over. Khalil, who does not take the traffic stop as serious as Starr—mainly because she was taught how to react to police stops and questioning from the age of nine by her father—reaches for his brush and is shot because the officer mistakes it for a gun. This incident takes the narrative on its own journey for justice.
Starr’s identity is tested after the shooting as she struggles to define who she is. Narrating her own experiences, she lets us know that there are two of her. The one she presents at her predominantly white, rich school is approachable and not “hood”, and the one in the predominantly black, poor neighborhood is who she is. The two worlds she used to be able to coexist in are now in conflict with each other. Even though she was aware of the differences between them, the shooting brings the conflict within herself to her outside world(s).
Representation is very important in this film, and the success is due to how it depicts different perspectives about controversial topics. It does this through characters like Uncle Carlos (Common) and Hailey (Sabrina Carpenter). Uncle Carlos, Lisa’s brother, is a police officer and he watched Khalil grow up. His character represents the black cop who is juggling between work and loyalty to your neighborhood and family. There is a scene between him and Starr where they talk about traffic stops. She asks him about what actions he would take in a similar scenario as Khalil’s death versus a white suspect. He does not hesitate to imply he would shoot a black suspect first but tell a white suspect to put their hands up before shooting. He ends this talk with “the world is complicated”. Hailey is Starr’s friend from Williamson Prep who attempts to embody what she believes ‘black’ to be with her actions and words throughout the film. While she’s hanging out with Starr, she sympathizes for the cop and his family, due to being harassed by many for shooting Khalil. She says to Starr that the cop’s life matters too. This rhetoric has been used to debunk the Black Lives Matter agenda and I think it was very important to include these perspectives.
The Hate U Give is a film on power, race, coming-of-age, and identity. Based off of a fictional novel, it sheds light on the controversial issues some have faced, and others have seen through media. The film mirrors its social context and the reality of these issues such as Black Lives Matter, Blue Lives Matter, police brutality, “Driving While Back”, generational poverty, white privilege, and the justice system, who some view to be fair and others corrupt. It uses these ideas and the opinions behind them to start the conversation on what is happening in our country.