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.