The movies have long lied that an impassioned speech can change everything. George Tillman Jr.'s fierce, clear-eyed The Hate U Give, based on Angie Thomas' acclaimed young adult novel, surges toward a climactic Hollywood monologue as its hero, 16-year-old Starr (Amandla Stenberg), finds her voice and dares to speak truth to power. Starr witnessed a white cop gunning down her childhood friend Khalil (Algee Smith), the latest of far too many unarmed black men to suffer such a fate. Her father (Russell Hornsby) has urged her to tell her truth, to let her light shine. When events push her at last to seize a literal megaphone, the world responds as it might in real life. The troubles around her keep getting worse.
Something crucial is changed, though: Starr herself -- and quite possibly young viewers (and readers) stirred by her story. Starr learns that fighting for change demands a lifetime commitment. Her life bustles with more people and incidents and conflicting impulses; the film runs 132 minutes, but everything in it is vital. While Starr lives in a black neighborhood, she attends a mostly white private school, where she finds it imperative never to appear ghetto. The Hate U Give takes time to focus on the nuances of Starr's life, on the effort of code-switching, on the layers of self that Starr must sort through in everyday interactions.
The plotting demands that Starr slowly take everything in, surveying both of her worlds before taking significant action. That's unusual in studio filmmaking, which has long emphasized a heroic decisiveness in its protagonists. At each step, Stenberg reveals the pain and promise of committing oneself to ideals.