Algee Smith

The Hate U Give

27/10/18

Adapted from Angie Thomas’s YA best-seller of the same name, The Hate U Give is a powerful film, with a compelling central performance by Amandla Stenberg as Starr, a sixteen-year-old black girl struggling to fit in. Her mother doesn’t want her to attend the local public school, where the kids from her neighbourhood go to fight and get high. Instead, Starr is sent to a private – and mostly white – establishment, where she has to hide huge swathes of her identity to get along, to be ‘the non-threatening black’ her new friends find palatable.

So far, so standard teen movie, but then Starr’s childhood friend, Khalil (Algee Smith) is killed by a cop who pulls them over as they’re driving home from a party: shot dead for being a little mouthy, for reaching for a hairbrush, for doing these things while black. Starr is the only witness, and she’s afraid. She knows that speaking up will mean media coverage and instant fame, and she doesn’t want to draw attention to herself this way. Partly because of school, where she reveals little of where she lives, but also because of King (Anthony Mackie), the local drug lord, who doesn’t want the authorities to know that Khalil has been dealing drugs for him.

It’s an uncompromising story, with strength in its convictions, using Starr’s confusion to  confront this whole big ugly mess. When media pundits dismiss Khalil as a lowlife dealer, Starr demands they stop blaming him for his own death: we already know that he sells drugs because there’s no easy way to make money in their no-hope suburb, and that there’s no universal healthcare to ensure his grandma gets the cancer drugs she needs. When her white friends use the cop’s acquittal as an excuse to walk out of school to protest that ‘Black Lives Matter,’ Starr is appalled, not because she doesn’t agree with their sentiment, but because they’re blatant in their insincerity – they want to avoid a test. She doesn’t want them to co-opt his name for their own ends, especially not Hailey (Sabrina Carpenter), who’s unequivocal in her belief that the cop was just doing his job.

Okay, so sometimes it’s a little clunky and heavy-handed, more of a message than a story, but it’s a prescient and vital message nonetheless, told with nuance and with heart. We’re offered various points of view: Starr’s uncle Carlos (Common) gives us some insight into why cops might sometimes shoot before they should; her boyfriend, Chris (KJ Apa), shows us how to be a white ally. It’s a learning curve for me, at least, and I suspect I’m not alone.

4 stars

Susan Singfield

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Detroit

30/08/17

Kathryn Bigelow’s angry howl of a movie deals with the infamous Algiers Motel Incident of 1967, one of the most shameful abuses of civil rights in America’s history. It’s certainly not an easy film to watch, but it’s undeniably powerful and recreates the events with an almost forensic eye for period detail.

Melvin Dismukes (John Boyega) is the luckless security guard who finds himself drawn into events at the motel after one of the residents plays a practical joke with a starting pistol, a joke that goes horribly wrong. A bunch of Detroit police officers, led by the openly racist Krauss (Will Poulter), enter the motel with guns drawn, determined to find the ‘sniper’ they believe is holed up there. Dismukes has the unenviable task of trying to maintain some kind of equilibrium amidst the rising tension, while Krauss, already in trouble for shooting an unarmed man in an earlier incident, is determined to make an arrest. The problem is, he isn’t particularly choosy about how he selects the so-called perpetrator.

The film quickly develops into a tense confrontation between the police and their captives, who are subjected to a terrifying ordeal that some of them, sadly, do not survive. The film then goes beyond the incident itself to examine the resulting trial and its woeful  verdict. Brit actor John Boyega plays Dismukes with dignity and steely determination and there’s a fine turn from Algee Smith, as a vocalist on the edge of stardom, whose life is suddenly and irrevocably affected by the events at the motel. But it’s Poulter who is the revelation here, playing a ruthless, smirking scumbag, a role that’s about a million miles away from his usual comfort zone. Clearly, Bigelow spotted something in that angelic face that was capable of portraying evil – and it’s interesting to note that the actor was attached to the role of Pennywise in the upcoming It before a change of director prompted him to bail out.

Detroit won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. It’s long and harrowing and some liberties have been taken with the real story (the police officers’ names, for instance, have been changed, presumably in an attempt to protect the film-makers from lawsuits), but it’s nonetheless an important and profoundly affecting film that absolutely deserves to be seen and heard . I would strongly suggest that you grab the opportunity to do exactly that.

4.6 stars

Philip Caveney