screen gems

We need to talk about Amandla Stenberg, one of her generation’s brightest queer talents

The Hate U Give

Welcome to Screen Gems, our weekend dive into queer and queer-adjacent titles of the past that deserve a watch or a re-watch.

The Underrated: The Hate U Give

With queer actress Amandla Stenberg headlining Dear Evan Hansen this weekend–and actually being one of the film’s redeeming elements–we thought it time to go back and examine an overlooked gem that features the actress at her best.

The Hate U Give flew under the showbiz radar back in 2018: a wild disservice to the cast and crew of the film, and the moviegoing audience. Based on the novel of the same name, the film examines the current racial tensions that helped spawn movements like #BlackLivesMatter with surprising even-handedness. Stenberg plays Starr, a 16-year-old girl attending a mostly white private school. A routine traffic stop with her friend Khalil turns deadly, thrusting Starr into the midst of a lawsuit that finds her contending with harassment from gangs, police, neighbors and fellow students. Protests erupt, tensions rise, and Starr begins to crack under the stress of her newfound infamy…and an increasingly violent neighborhood.

Stenberg should have earned an Oscar nomination for her spectacular performance in the lead, and we have a feeling that if The Hate U Give had come out a year or two later, she probably would have. As it was, the movie predicted the years to come as conversations about race and police violence began to dominate the national conversation, and as real-life men and women like Starr and Khalil have taken their stories public. It helps, of course, that the movie also features excellent direction by George Tillman Jr., a nuanced script by Audrey Wells, and that Stenberg has the aid of a wonderful supporting cast. In the role of her mother, Lisa, Regina Hall gives one of her best performances.

The Hate U Give isn’t always an easy pill to swallow by design: Tillman and Wells want to start a conversation. They succeed in their intentions, creating one of the best films of the past decade, and a showcase for Stenberg, one of her generation’s brightest talents. We came away from The Hate U Give angry and horrified, but also hopeful. As the cultural conversation around race, policing and street violence continue, we encourage our readers to do themselves a favor and watch this movie. Few works of art can so encapsulate such complexity this well.

Streams on Amazon, Hulu, YouTube & VUDU.