The Hate U Give may not be the typical “Oscar movie”, but it should be. What is an Oscar movie now anyway? There used to be a type. Serious. Important. Very dramatic. Films like The English Patient and Snow Falling on Cedars and Chocolat. But the definition of an “Oscar movie” has evolved significantly over the last few years as the Academy has taken strides to grow and diversify its membership. Films like Mad Max: Fury Road, Get Out, and Beasts of the Southern Wild are now “Oscar movies.” I mean, the most recent Best Picture winner is a film about a woman falling in love with a godlike amphibian man. The times they are a-changin’.
But still, prejudices remain, and I fear a film like The Hate U Give—one of the best films of the year—will be unfairly tossed aside as “merely” a YA movie. Yes, it’s adapted from the bestselling YA novel of the same name by Angie Thomas, but that doesn’t make it any less impactful, artful, or powerful than something like A Star Is Born. It’s a searing, complex, and tremendously well-acted story of identity. One that touches on a number of very “now” issues with tact, from #BlackLivesMatter to white privilege, as it tells the story of a young black girl straddling two worlds—one predominantly white and rich, one predominantly black and poor—who finds her dual identities crashing down when she witnesses the killing of her unarmed black friend at the hands of a white police officer.
The Hate U Give never feels preachy or trite or perfunctory, and that’s a testament both to the deft, complex screenplay by the late Audrey Wells and George Tillman Jr.’s thoughtful direction. You may think you know the beats of this story, or how it’s going to play out, but the film surprises you at every turn with just how rich and complicated this particular piece of storytelling is, which makes it ring all the more truthful.
The entire film rests on the shoulders of young performer Amandla Stenberg, in what should be a star-making performance. Her character Starr straddles two worlds, and Stenberg plays the duality—as well as the discomfort—of Starr beautifully. Moreover, as Starr begins to find her own identity and solidify her voice, Stenberg traces the arc in an organic fashion that really hones in the difficulty of Starr’s journey. It’s one of the most impressive performances of the year, made all the more difficult by the wide range of talent that surrounds Stenberg, from Regina Hall to Algee Smith. But it’s Russell Hornsby as Starr’s father Maverick who really stands out as deserving of Supporting Actor consideration.
Hornsby, a veteran performer, delivers multiple jaw-dropping monologues in The Hate U Give, each of which gives the audience a better understanding of the complexities of being black in America. While Starr’s parents send her to a rich, predominantly white school to give her and her brother a better education, Maverick also doesn’t want his children to lose their black identities. It’s a complex performance—Maverick doesn’t come off as unjustly angry or clichéd, but instead simply as a man who has lived a hard life, and who is doing his best to forge a better path forward for his family. Hornsby imbues this performance with an emotional mix of confidence, compassion, and concern, and it’s a turn that’ll stay with you long after the credits have rolled.
So as Oscar season gets underway and For Your Consideration events are flooded with the usual prestige dramas, it’d be a shame to let a film as brilliant and powerful as The Hate U Give go unnoticed. Here’s hoping 20th Century Fox makes the right moves, and those in the industry take the time to actually see the film before writing it off as “not an Oscar movie.” In 2018, The Hate U Give is absolutely an Oscar movie.