Amandla Stenberg is stunning. As the film’s locus, she moves between two worlds – that of her friends, where her identity seems grounded – quite literally – by her obsession with the latest kicks, music, her friends – and Williamson Prep, where she is forced into a performative ‘whiteness.’ My only critique of the film would be the way in which the movement between these two worlds is handled, visually speaking. Starr’s school life is filtered through a cold haze; her ‘real’ life is warm and authentic. The intention is fair, but the result is one which highlights Starr’s performativity and serves to, quite literally, lighten her skin. It’s a little on the nose.
“In this role, Amandla is, quite simply, fantastic”
But this gripe aside, The Hate U Give shows with appropriate sensitivity the way in which such events as these can spiral out of control with such rapidity – and how the power of an individual’s voice can begin to repair the broken seams. In this role, Amandla is, quite simply, fantastic, with her movement between worlds, the increasing violence it begets, and her ultimate ability to restore a semblance of harmony moved through with remarkable skill. There is a crossover of these two worlds – Starr’s father compares Harry Potter houses to gangs, but it remains conceptual until Starr can unite it. The notion of vocality is rendered all the more powerful because it carries Amandla’s voice behind it; an ardent supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement lends the actress remarkable credibility in this role – not that she needs anything more than she delivers here.
The Hate U Give is a film, rather unsurprisingly, of binaries and separation – it is one which chooses not to focus on white perspectives of the movement, unless it is doing so in order to dismiss them. But it is in the performances that such binaries become more of a spectrum; Hate – with a capital H – can be given; but so can love – just look at the names of these characters.