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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Hate U Give is based on Angie Thomas' award-winning book about Starr Carter (Amandla Stenberg), a black teen who witnesses the fatal police shooting of a close friend. Like the acclaimed novel, the movie deals frankly and powerfully with race and racism. It also addresses the tension between the police and the communities they're supposed to serve and protect and the differences between teens growing up in predominantly African American neighborhoods and those from affluent white neighborhoods. Moments of violence are realistic and often upsetting: A cop shoots an unarmed teen (some blood is shown), gunshots break out at a party, characters brandish and fire guns and get into a tense confrontation with the police, tear gas is deployed during a peaceful protest, two classmates push each other, a stepfather beats his stepson, a store is set on fire with people inside, and more. Language isn't constant but includes one "f--k," a few uses of "s--t," etc. Teens talk about sex, but no more than kissing is shown; there's also a little bit of drinking by both teens and adults, and characters discuss drug dealing. Families who watch will have plenty of big issues to discuss afterward; hopefully teens will also appreciate the movie's messages about standing up for what you believe in, being proud of who you are, and communicating honestly with your parents and friends.
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What's the story?
Based on author Angie Thomas' award-winning young-adult novel, THE HATE U GIVE follows high schooler Starr Carter (Amandla Stenberg), who explains that she feels like she lives two lives. In the first, she's part of a loving family in a predominantly black community in the underserved neighborhood of Garden Heights. In the second, she's "Starr 2.0," one of very few kids of color at Williamson Prep, a posh private school on the affluent side of town. She never quite feels herself there, but she makes the best of it: She's popular, plays basketball, and has a romance with fellow sneaker-head Chris (K.J. Apa), who's white. But then Starr's life takes a tragic turn after she leaves a Garden Heights house party with her childhood friend, the Tupac-loving Khalil (Algee Smith), and he's stopped by the police for a seemingly unnecessary reason. When Khalil reaches into the car for a hairbrush, the officer shoots -- fatally, as it turns out. Starr is traumatized by Khalil's death and decides not to go public as the witness. But after the story goes national, Starr feels conflicted by how her prep-school classmates respond and how Khalil is depicted in the media. So she re-evaluates her decision to speak out for her late friend.
Is it any good?
Propelled by Stenberg's performance and an excellent cast, this is one of the rare adaptations that does right by its source material, offering a powerful exploration of race, racism, and activism. Working from an adapted screenplay by Audrey Wells, director George Tillman Jr. captures the spirit of Thomas' break-out novel, giving readers and viewers a lot to unpack. The movie opens with Starr's father, Maverick (Russell Hornsby), giving his kids "the talk" -- not about sex but about how to act when they're around police. One of the best aspects of the movie is how supportive and loving the Carter family is: Maverick, who owns the local grocery; mom Lisa (Regina Hall), a nurse at a local clinic; Starr; and her brothers Seven (Lamar Johnson) and Sekani (T.J. Wright) are a tight unit. Starr's beloved uncle Carlos (Common) is a police officer who moved out of Garden Heights, adding layers of complexity to the situation. Rounding out the fabulous cast are Issa Rae as a lawyer/social justice activist and Anthony Mackie as the boss of a Garden Heights gang who has a history with Maverick. There's not a false note among the cast, and Hornsby and Hall are particularly effective as Starr's parents.
So many young adult adaptations fall short of expectations, but this one is up there with The Perks of Being a Wallflower and The Fault in Our Stars. It's an ideal movie to see with teens -- nothing is too cringeworthy for parents to handle while sitting next to their kids -- and then talk about candidly afterward. You can discuss everything from what to do when a party gets dangerous to how to deal with a fair-weather friend to even bigger, more troubling issues of institutional racism, the tension between police and the communities they're charged to serve, and how class and privilege affect the way we see law enforcement and race in America. Because it's so thought-provoking, The Hate U Give isn't the sort of escapist teen flick that helps you get away from the news cycle. This movie, like the book that inspired it, is about more than a police shooting; it's about speaking out against injustice; healing wounds; the importance of family, finding true friends, and uniting communities; and, for parents, supporting kids as they find their voice.
Talk to your kids about ...
How does the movie deal with racism/issues related to race? Are lessons learned? If so, how would you describe them? What do you think Lisa means when she says that "white folks want diversity but not too much diversity"?
Phones play a significant role in the story, both for communication and recording important events. How does Starr's phone give her power in a situation where she otherwise wouldn't have any? What do you think about how much time kids -- and adults -- are spending on devices?
If you've read the book: What did you like most about the movie, and what, if anything, did you miss?
- In theaters: October 5, 2018
- Cast: Amandla Stenberg, Regina Hall, Russell Hornsby
- Director: George Tillman Jr.
- Studio: Twentieth Century Fox
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Book Characters, Friendship, Great Girl Role Models, High School
- Character Strengths: Communication, Compassion, Courage
- Run time: 172 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: mature thematic elements, some violent content, drug material and language
- Awards/Honors: Common Sense Seal
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