This movie had been on my to-watch list for a while. I was able to see it on a recent flight in an audio edited version. I have not read the book and t, his review will have spoilers. The trailer gives away most of the movie so I feel safe laying it out here:
Starr is black and goes to a white private high school in another town. She is in Khalil's car when he gets pulled over for driving while black. Khalil is shot by a cop who thinks that he is going for a gun. Starr is haunted by the death and must decide if she is going to testify in front of a grand jury. Some people want her to testify while the drug kingpin, King, wants her to stay quite because Khalil was a dealer of his. She stands up and becomes the face of the local Black Lives Matter movement.
This story is an expansion of a short story about the shooting of Oscar Grant by a BART officer. It gives one believable, yet fictional, portrait of what a witness to an officer involved shooting may be going through. I don't know how much new ground this breaks if you have read or heard anything about officer involved shootings.
The cast is fantastic. Amandla Stenberg as Starr Carter is fantastic. She is so much better in this movie than The Darkest Minds, and has grown up since The Hunger Games. If this is what she can do with a good script I look forward to seeing her in the future. Regina Hall is solid, I think she was better in Support the Girls, where she was the lead. Regina is smart and is solely motivated by keeping her daughter and family safe. She brings a mother's perspective into all the right spots in this movie.
Starr has two close white girl friends and a white boyfriend at her high school. Inserting these characters forces white audiences to look at their own prejudices and motivations for supporting the police or victims of police shootings. I think it makes the movie more impactful by giving another vector to put yourself into the movie.
I will put a spoiler note below to discuss the ending. I did not like the ending of the movie. It was too fairy-tale and feels like an abrupt change to the movie. If there was a different ending to the movie then this may have been four diamonds, but the taste I am left with isn't right.
***** SPOILERS BELOW *****
The second to last scene of the movie has Starr and Seven being rescued from their father's store after King set it on fire. Or was it one of King's henchmen, like a crime boss would normally operate? A tense standoff ensues where The Hate U Give Little Infants Fucks Everyone (THUG LIFE) is most accurately portrayed with Sekani, but Starrs young brother, holding a gun while two white officers have him in their gun sites. Sekani has the gun aimed at King. Starr steps in to end the cycle of crime.
Final scene, the community is rebuilding after the riot. King is in jail for Arson and his entire gang has been eradicated. The community is vibrant and everyone is singing Kumbaya, not literally singing. If that seems like the kind of sweet ending that leaves you in diabetic shock, then you aren't alone. The struggle in communities that have officer involved shootings don't end. Neighborhoods don't magically become utopias in weeks or months. Leaders of gangs being jailed do not eliminate gangs. Khalil started dealing drugs for King so he could make money to support his grandmother cancer treatments. She was laid off when she got sick. Khalil had a legal job, but wasn't making enough to support his family. The situation that his family was in doesn't change if a gang leaves an area. The economic problems of black neighborhoods are institutional. For a movie that felt very real up until the last ten minutes, the last ten minutes is pure fantasy. Re-cut the end of the movie and I would bump this up to four stars.