With more of an edge than most of today’s YA adaptations that tend to center on futuristic dystopian societies, director George Tillman Jr.’s effective The Hate U Give is set right in the heart of today’s real world in which young people face intensely difficult circumstances just living a normal existence. Angie Thomas’ best seller, nicely adapted by Audrey Wells (who sadly died today after a long battle with cancer), in some ways was ripped right out of the headlines, putting a young woman right in the center of a tragic shooting that triggers a racial incident we are all too familiar with these days. This is fiction but might as well be out of a documentary because it feels vital and carries a strong message aimed at a younger audience who have much to gain from seeing it.

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Few films have such a powerful and truthful opening sequence as an African-American father named Maverick (Russell Hornsby) sits down to give his kids “the talk,” an increasingly common ritual in which black parents instruct their kids about what to do during a traffic stop. Maverick is no saint; he’s an ex-prisoner who basically took the blame for the actions of a local thug (Anthony Mackie) who runs the drug business in their Garden Heights neighborhood. His daughter Starr (Amandla Stenberg) is an exceptionally smart and charming teen who, at the insistence of Mom (Regina Hall), eschews the run-down local high school for a private one called Williamson with mostly white kids. She often finds herself a fish out of water in both places — too white for Garden Heights, too black for Williamson — but still finds friends to whom she can relate including boyfriend Chris (Riverdale’s KJ Apa) and best friend Kayleigh (Sabrina Carpenter).

The incident at the center of the film begins innocently enough: Starr re-connects with old childhood friend Khalil (Algee Smith) at a party that ends tragically when they drive home together and are stopped by a white cop who mistakes a hairbrush for a gun, fatally shooting Khalil. As the only witness to this increasingly visible event, Starr is at first private, keeping the truth from those closest to her. Eventually that becomes impossible and she must go public, doing a TV interview that further ignites the already explosive situation that has a whole city on edge.

Wells
UTA

As I say in my video review (click the link above to watch) there is much to admire about this film, even when its message tends to become a bit overwhelming in the overlong 133-minute running time. Starr is a strong character, pressured on all sides — even from an Uncle Carlos (Common) who is also with the police — to deal with a situation careening out of control. Ultimately she must find herself in all of that, and Stenberg again proves she is a uniquely special and relatable actress who is able to touch on all the aspects of the character. Hornsby also is impressive, as is Hall in a very strong cast expertly guided by Tillman. Hopefully this is a movie that will make a difference and cut through the noise. It also serves as a fine tribute to a wonderful screenwriter in Wells, who has left this planet too soon. Producers are Marty Bowen, Wyck Godfrey, Robert Teitel and Tillman Jr. 20th Century Fox opens the film today.

Do you plan to see The Hate U Give? Let us know what you think.