[Screen It]


(2018) (Amandla Stenberg, Russell Hornsby) (PG-13)

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Drama: A black teenager tries to figure out what to do after a fatal police shooting of her childhood friend by a white cop where she was the only witness.
Starr Carter (AMANDLA STENBERG) is a 16-year-old girl who lives two lives. One is in the predominantly black neighborhood of Garden Heights where her father, Maverick 'Mav' Carter (RUSSELL HORNSBY), was once the right-hand man to local drug kingpin, King (ANTHONY MACKIE). But after serving several years in prison for him, Mav has gone straight, runs a local grocery mart and wants to provide for his family. Beyond his wife Lisa (REGINA HALL) and Starr, there's her half-brother Seven (LAMAR JOHNSON) who Mav had with another woman, and younger brother Sekani (TJ WRIGHT).

Starr's other half is as a student at the mostly all-white Williamson private school where the teen has friends in Hailey (SABRINA CARPENTER) and Maya (MEGAN LAWLESS) and is dating Chris (K.J. APA), the latter unbeknownst to her parents and especially her father who wouldn't understand her dating a white boy. Mav and Lisa have sent them there not only for a better education, but also to keep them safe from the bad elements in their neighborhood, one of which Mav views as the police.

Starr knows his rules about how to act if ever stopped by one, and she implores her childhood friend Khalil (ALGEE SMITH) to follow them when they're pulled over by a white cop one night. But he doesn't and the cop, mistaking a hairbrush the teen has grabbed from the car at night for a handgun, shoots him dead. Starr is understandably shell-shocked and doesn't tell anyone at her school that she was the witness, something King suggests is good advice for her to follow in general, what with the teen having been a drug dealer for him.

Starr's cop uncle, Carlos (COMMON), tries to help her get through this, as does social activist April Ofrah (ISSA RAE) who'd like the teen to speak to the press and public about what she witnessed. From that point on, and with pressure coming at her from all sides, Starr tries to decide what to do.

OUR TAKE: 7 out of 10
When I was a white kid growing up in the 1960s and '70s, we were taught to respect police officers and, well, sort of fear them. Not in the belief that they'd do anything to us, but rather that they were authority figures not to mess with, akin to the school principal and other fathers in the neighborhood.

In today's world, if you're a black kid, it's a good bet your parents are likewise teaching you to fear police, but not necessarily in that same sort of authority way. Instead, it's in the save your life fashion, which for certain people of color in certain neighborhoods across the country, is now a very real reality.

With that introduction, don't get me wrong as I'm very pro-police. But I'm also against unjustified racial profiling, tense confrontations and shootings that are occurring in greater numbers nowadays involving cops (some black, but mostly white) and young black citizens.

That troubling issue is at the heart of "The Hate U Give," a well-made drama that revolves around a 16-year-old African-American teen (Amandla Stenberg) who witnesses a white cop shoot her teenage friend (Algee Smith) who she's known since childhood.

It occurs during a nighttime traffic stop where Khalil doesn't listen to Starr's urging to shut up and do what he's told by the white cop. Instead, he adopts a defiant attitude, doesn't follow directions, and ends up shot dead when he pulls a hairbrush from the car which the cop, in a split-second decision, mistakes for a handgun.

Starr is understandably shell-shocked, what with having previously watched another best friend be gunned down when they were ten in a drive-by shooting. She did nothing then in terms of being a suspect and she's torn about what to do now. And that's due to a number of issues.

For one, she lives something of a split personality life. During the day, she attends a mostly all-white, private school where she has a white boyfriend (K.J. Apa) and is viewed as a "different" sort of black person by some of her friends, such as Hailey (Sabrina Carpenter) who displays an increasingly less subdued form of racism. At night and on the weekends, she's in her mostly black neighborhood with her family (Russell Hornsby and Regina Hall as her parents, Lamar Johnson and TJ Wright as her siblings) and friends.

No one at her school knows of her being at the scene of the shooting, but some in her neighborhood do. That includes her cop uncle (Common) who eventually admits to performing racial profiling during traffic stops (as a black man himself) as well as an activist (Issa Rae) who wants the teen to bring further attention to this issue. Then there's a drug dealer (Anthony Mackie) who not only employed the slain teen, but was also the former boss to the girl's father who served time in prison for the kingpin but has since gone straight. The dealer warns her to keep her mouth shut for obvious reasons and thus she finds herself conflicted about what to do.

I could have done without Starr's occasional voice-over narration -- courtesy of scribe Audrey Wells who adapts Angie Thomas' 2017 novel of the same name -- that commits the old screenplay sin of telling rather than showing. Thankfully, it's not egregious enough to be too bothersome, but to get around that problem it could have easily and eventually been shown to be part of her testimony, her college application essay or interview, etc.

While this isn't the first film even this year to deal with this subject matter, it still feels fresh and raw, and the performances are good, especially from Stenberg and Hornsby. Only time will tell if movies like this will have an impact on relations between cops and people of color, but there's no denying this is a powerful and timely offering. "The Hate U Give" rates as a 7 out of 10.

Reviewed September 26, 2018 / Posted October 5, 2018

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