PG-13, but it's a pretty brutal movie. Look at the subject matter. It's about police violence and racism. A kid gets shot on screen. There's some language. The language isn't rough enough to justify an R-rating, but it does have an f-bomb at the end. In terms of complexity, it is a pretty intense movie. I can't even say that it would affect the MPAA rating, but I wouldn't let a little kid watch this. A solid PG-13.
DIRECTOR: George Tillman, Jr.
I don't know why I haven't felt like writing. I have had too much on my plate and I think my Weebly blog is the thing that has had to suffer. My eyes hurt and its been a month. Let me tell you right now, November isn't easy for teachers. For some reason, everything is scheduled this month and I just want to curl up in my blanket and get some rest. Also, I keep undertaking these major projects for the podcast and I just need something to go. But I actually had the good fortune / silver lining to be able to go out to the movies and see some new stuff. It's great. School gets out at 3:00, but I have to hang around until 6 or 7, so I go see a movie. Now, I didn't know much about The Hate U Give before going to see it. I heard that it involved a police shooting and that audiences tended to like it. I didn't know, however, that it was an adaptation of a YA novel. Apparently, not a lot of adults know about this movie. I can see why. It's progressive as all get out...and that's why I love it.
I know. My stodgy conservative friends are quickly unfriending me right now. But The Hate U Give actually has a lot to offer. I'm not going to fawn over this movie because there's a lot that I would rework. But this is a really important movie...with some caveats. (I'm sorry that I've used ellipses twice in only a matter of sentences. I must be feeling...dramatic.) I think that my support of #BlackLivesMatter doesn't win me a ton of friends. No, I'm not anti-police. But I am trying to draw attention to a crisis that has been overlooked for far too long. The audience that is most aware of the plight of the minority. Now, if you are having a knee-jerk reaction saying that I'm painting in broad strokes, that's the issue with The Hate U Give. The Hate U Give is a message movie. It has a really important message and it is going to make sure that the message is going to come across. The movie is a plea. It dramatizes a real situation, but it doesn't allow for confusion. The problem there is that it can easily be misinterpreted as propaganda. That's not even a misinterpretation. That's just a personal interpretation. From the moment of the inciting incident to the finale, the movie is non-stop discussing institutionalized racism. This is great. This is terrible. It's great because it needed to be as clear as humanly possible. But who is it going to reach? It's going to reach me. I'm already on your team. I paid to see The Hate U Give with my own money. With a message this clear and this overt, it often comes across as preachy. Let me flip the table. If I watched a movie that was about the #AllLivesMatter movement, I would be rolling my eyes pretty hard. So what is the response to that? I don't know if there is a real right answer to that. But then you also have to consider that this movie is aimed at teenagers. You'd think that teenagers are pretty progressive. I just wrote so above. But as a teacher, often I find teenagers parroting what their parents tell them. I mean, I had a student visibly protesting studying John Lewis's March last year, so what do I know.
The thing that stops this movie becoming a truly great picture for me, though, is the fact that it has to constantly reminds its audience that it is a YA adaptation. There are stretches of the movie that just completely fly. If I cut the movie well enough, I'm sure you could watch this as the next Do the Right Thing. The movie addresses elements of police brutality that I've never really thought about before. It manages to, on occasion, stress the nuance about white privilege. But for every success the movie has, it takes a couple of steps backwards. It's like, at regular intervals, the movie has to simplify things to address a more immature audience. First and foremost --and I know why they did it --they had Starr narrate entire sections of the film. For someone who wants a movie that shows instead of tells, these moments are fairly cringey. She talks like a teenager, which I suppose is fine. But it is very heavy handed. Starr gives a lot of exposition through her thoughts. I said I know why they do it. The book probably had a very unique voice. It also is a bit of the Anne Frank thing going on. By hearing about events through the eyes of a teenager, it grounds the whole thing in reality. But I don't want that. I want the director to find a way to communicate this stuff without huge info dumps. It also sounds a bit stilted at times. It's the adult trying to sound like a kid and that always throws me off a bit. Starr is also a bit too successful at convincing people. Because she's supposed to be this revolutionary character, she is a bit of a Mary Sue. She has flaws, but these flaws are very superficial. She's nervous to talk to the media, for understandable reasons. But she quickly gets over this phobia and knows exactly what to say when people are looking at her. Similarly, there are other juvenile elements to the movie. There are some tropes that just feel like they need to appear in the movie. Honestly, most of the stuff at school seems very CW. Chris, Starr's boyfriend played by K.J. Apa, makes absolutely no sense in this movie. Many of Starr's complaints about white sympathy can also be seen in Chris, but we're supposed to accept these flaws coming out of Chris's mouth. That dance is also just too much. I think it would be easy to toss Sabrina Carpenter's Hailey into that mix as well, coming off as a bit of a stereotype. But I've had students and, unfortunately, peers just like Hailey. As one dimensional as she comes off, I'm kind of glad that she's in the story. She's pretty unlikable and that's the point. I know that if I directed this movie, I would try to make her a bit more nuanced, but that's not accurate either.
But I'm whining about ten percent of the movie. When this movie gets rolling and forgets that it is an adaptation of a YA novel, it is actually pretty powerful. This all comes from the inciting incident. The inciting incident is brutal. It pulls the movie right out of the soap opera trappings that surround the beginning of the film. What Tillman does, and I hope to goodness that it is intentional, is that it is a violent tonal shift from the artificiality of high school to the very real world violence that Starr is presented with. It seems like this movie is about a love triangle and teenage drama to the multifaceted elements of surviving racial violence. If you give The Hate U Give a real chance, it explores why something that could be written off as an accident is problematic in itself. I won't deny that it wants you to demonize the police officer. Many of the police officers in this movie come across as pretty unsympathetic, even antagonistic. But what the filmmakers want to stress is that, at its root, we have a foundational issue with racism in this country. Very wisely, one of the protagonists is a police officer. In the back of my mind, I have some of those racially motivated phobias. How could someone go out every night and risk their lives? The movie doesn't stray far from that question. It actually vocalizes it clearly. But it also addresses the issue that police act differently around different levels of income and different cultural backgrounds. It balances a very tough tightrope. Do you hate the police or do you hate the system that made police fear minorities? The one thing that The Hate U Give doesn't want to offer are easy answers. The easy answer, in this case, is probably wrong.
When Starr isn't narrating, she is a compelling avatar. Again, I've never been a teen girl of color living in an economically distressed area. But what Starr offers is a well-rounded world of experiences that allow her to relate to multiple audiences. Starr has a foot planted in both the lower incomed and higher incomed societies. Placing Starr in both of these worlds shows that neither culture is right. One is definitely a victim, but neither culture takes care of Starr in this situation. The white-dominated upper crust is blind to Starr's struggle, thinking it understands what she is going through and minimizing it. The lower-income people of color often support her, until it goes against their self-interests. I'm actually a little taken aback by seeing Anthony Mackie in this role. He does fine, I suppose. But there could have been a much deeper character here. He's effective only because the story is not about him. The story is always focused on Starr and how she is reacting to the world around her. There are only a few people who never really cross into zones of betrayal. But these people are her family. There's an interesting subplot involving Starr's father. Starr's father is probably the best developed character in the story. He's a bit of Obi-Wan Kenobi when it comes to doling out advice, but he's got demons. I would have loved an Obi-Wan Kenobi with demons. He keeps making these bad decisions because his pride drives him to make these oddball choices. There aren't too many consequences for his choices, which is an unfortunate cake-and-eat-it-too situation. But I do like his character overall.
I kind of feel like The Hate U Give is the anti-Blind Side. Message wise, it almost delivers the complete opposite message of The Blind Side (one of my least favorite movies.) But tonally, it paints with broad strokes, completely stepping over any misinterpretation of concept. Because my politics align more with The Hate U Give, I'm going to be as broad stroked and stress that The Hate U Give is the more successful of the two movies. But I don't like when I'm not allowed to come up with my own opinion. That's definitely a major part of this movie. But the alternative is that the message isn't picked up. Honestly, the movie would thrive so much if it wasn't aimed for younger audiences. I don't know if the Academy is going to pay attention to it because of the 10% that's so juvenile. The content is important. The movie is good. But I don't think I'll ever fall in love with it because I'm not the intended audience. Regardless, give it a shot. It's pretty powerful.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.