According to Tupac Shakur, the phrase “Thug Life” stands for “The Hate U Give Little Infants Fucks Everyone”, explains Khalil (Algee Smith) to Starr (Amandla Stenberg) while they sit in his car after a party. They then drive off into the night. Sirens are heard, and Khalil gets pulled over by the cops. As the policeman goes to run a check on the man’s license, Khalil reaches for his hairbrush in the car. What happens next is not too difficult to guess.
The Hate U Give then follows Starr through her ordeal as she tries to find her voice and place in a world that completely changes around her. In her neighbourhood people protest against police brutality by marching and confronting the police, while students at her all-white high school protest by skipping class and taking selfies. In a stark contrast, TV organisations show black people damaging police cars and the father of the murderous police officer giving a heartfelt statement.
The culmination of this is perhaps one of the most down-to-earth YA movies in recent history. The quasi-reinvention of the genre is not entirely different to what Black Panther did for superhero movies, or what Get Out was to the horror genre – it is another example of black creativity that aims to give due representation and to challenge the status quo in Trump’s America.
But aside from reflecting the larger context, George Tillman Jr.’s film (adapted from Angie Thomas’ best-selling novel) never loses focus from the emotional core of the story – Starr. Young actress Stenberg truly shines with a portrayal that is at once whimsical and heartbreaking. She is aided by a stellar cast that includes Regina Hall as Starr’s mother, Common as a conflicted man on the police force and Anthony Mackie as the friendly neighborhood drug-lord who doesn’t stay friendly very long.
The message of the film is presented in a way that is consistently resonant, but at times it is spelled out too literally. Despite the weighty themes at its core, this is a film that should be seen by young people. For some, it will provide much needed representation and guidance, and for others it will put them in the shoes of those facing systematic discrimination for a couple of hours. The Hate U Give is an important movie: it knows its target audience and that it is never too soon to start undoing the hate that we were given because, well, Tupac was right.
Image Credit: Movie DB