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New Film: The Hate U Give

The Hate U Give
Directed by George Tillman Jr.

Five years ago, when “Fruitvale Station” was released, I interviewed writer/director Ryan Coogler (“Creed,” “Black Panther”) regarding the differences in terms of our relationships with police. For me, as a kid, they were adults you could/should stop and ask for directions or the time. For Coogler, “We’re taught early on that the police aren’t your friend. We’re taught early on that when you’re pulled over you have to be extra careful – make sure you don’t make any sudden movements, make sure you wait until they ask for your wallet. That’s the relationship African American males have with the police.”

In the opening scene of “The Hate U Give,” an older Starr Carter (played by Amandla Stenberg) narrates as she recalls the first time their father gave them “the talk” – not the sex talk of most teenage movies, but the talk about how to behave if stopped or questioned by the police. This is followed by an explanation of how she has to code-switch to fit in, even partially successfully, in both her rough home neighborhood and her expensive private school – she can’t be too white at home and she can’t be too black at school.

In those first few minutes, “The Hate U Give” is like a basic primer on the life of an African American teenager. And it goes on, through Starr’s eyes as she watches another close friend gunned down in front of her, to become a primer on African American anguish, mistrust and the reasons why movements like “Black Lives Matter” exist and are needed, as well as an introduction to the economics of the street level drug trade.

In a sense, it’s a black movie for white audiences, which certainly isn’t intended to limit it. It’s overshadowed Lady Gaga’s breakout role in “A Star is Born” with a phenomenal lead performance by Stenberg. This is a film that explains experiences and emotions that black audiences already know all too well – while serving as a lesson in race relations for everybody else, as if perhaps it should be compulsory viewing for everybody who ever questions privilege in culture.

This is a powerful and nuanced film, held to a PG-13 rating (despite a title derived from an R-rated Tupac lyric) to include young audiences, but strong enough to be appreciated and understood by anybody. In a city like Sacramento, with recent shootings, “The Hate U Give” should be screened at City Hall for both council members and critical members of the community. The question being, who hosts that screening and who’s showing it for whom?

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About the author

Tony Sheppard

Tony Sheppard

Tony is a Professor at Sacramento State, Co-Director of the Sacramento Film & Music Festival and a long-time writer, primarily on topics related to film and the film industry. He is an active supporter of the local arts community, an amateur photographer, and has an interest in architecture and urban planning topics. He is currently designing a 595 sq.ft. house on a very small infill lot in Sacramento.

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