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Sunday, October 28, 2018


(Algee Smith & Amandla Stenberg)

This is a powerful adaptation of a best-selling Young Adult novel that should be required viewing for matric classes. (Review by Patrick Compton. 8/10)

This year, it’s been my privilege to watch break-through performances from two young actresses that strongly suggest distinguished careers. The first was that of 18-year-old Thomasin McKenzie in Leave no Trace, the second took place this week when 20-year-old Amandla Stenberg knocked me over with her stirring performance in George Tillman’s adaptation of Angie Thomas’s YA novel.

In case you’re wondering, the title is part of a hip-hop acronym, Thuglife, that gets to the core of this movie’s theme: “The hate you give little infants fucks everybody.” It’s an acronym, incidentally, that was adopted as the name of the late rapper Tupac Shakur’s band. Unpacked, this means that children are the future, so filling their minds with hate, raising them in an oppressive political system and asking them to accept racism, sexism and police brutality has a snowball effect which eventually destroys everyone’s hopes for the future, even those of the oppressors.

This movie, which is largely about the black experience in the United States, duly confronts these challenges. Of course, the connections to this country are obvious and make the film a very relevant viewing experience for youngsters (of all ages) here as well.

The opening sequence suggests that this is a didactic film. Young Starr and her brother are given The Talk by their father, Maverick (Russell Hornsby), in their black neighbourhood. The Talk – something that no white parents give their children – concerns the way kids must behave when police haul them over for questioning.

But while the didacticism never quite goes away, it’s leavened by the film’s rich assortment of fully realised characters as well as their different strategies to confront various challenges.

The central character, who is also the movie’s occasional narrator, is Stenberg’s character Starr, a teenage girl whose Black Panther father (Maverick) insists they continue to live in a poor black neighbourhood that brings its own dangers, not least arbitrary police action and a thriving drugs trade.

But, as a kind of compromise, Starr’s mom (Regina Hall) insists on sending her to a largely white school in an adjoining suburb that is a step up the class ladder. There she has white friends and even a white boyfriend. The movie eloquently sketches the dilemma facing Starr: she can’t speak her neighbourhood patois at school because she would be typecast as “hood”, while she has to be careful to wipe clean her white influences at home. Will she forever be divided into two seemingly irreconcilable personas?
The movie’s key event forces her to choose. One night, she is with a much-loved childhood friend (now a drug dealer), Khalil (Algee Smith) when the seemingly inevitable happens. A policeman orders him out of his car, he grabs his hairbrush to groom himself and is summarily shot dead.

Khalil’s death is taken up as a political cause, and the film then deals with the options faced by the traumatised Starr. Does she emerge from her longed-for anonymity to present herself as a witness at the Grand Jury hearing, or does she avoid trouble (from both the police and the local drug dealers) by keeping quiet? Clearly, there is a high price to pay for adopting either strategy.

Tillman’s direction gives this tale a fierce, story-telling grip and he is indebted to a fine script from (the late) Audrey Wells as well a series of superb performances.

Stenberg, who first appeared with Jennifer Lawrence in The Hunger Games, is a revelation as the fun-loving teenager who has to grow up very quickly. Much of her life is understandably stressful, but her face, when she smiles or laughs, positively glows with joy. She is truly a life force in this film. Hornsby and Hall are top-notch as her concerned and sometimes divided parents, but the performances of each member of the large cast, right down to the cameos, feel completely authentic.

The Hate U Give is currently showing in Durban, Pietermaritzburg and Newcastle. – Patrick Compton