So far, 2018 is primed to be truly a great year for essential young adult adaptations.
It’s easy to watch movies that fall within the young adult category with a number of preconceived notions. Arguably since the era of Harry Potter transformed into the Twilight and The Hunger Games years, fantasy and science fiction have turned YA fiction into a particularly lucrative enterprise. The combination of the allegorical and the fantastical creates an ideal midpoint of escapism that’s mixed with timely commentary, which makes these properties work for years on end. However, although Harry Potter, Twilight, and The Hunger Games all sit pretty among the top 25 highest-grossing franchises of all time, there is far more to YA than meets the eye.
As films like Everything, Everything and Love, Simon can attest, YA cinema also has the ability to depict rich stories that fully celebrate inclusion. These films give characters of color and LGBT protagonists some sorely needed positive portrayals on the big screen. Alongside the glossiness of teen romance, YA fiction need not be all sunshine and rainbows either. Look no further than at The Perks of Being a Wallflower and The Fault in Our Stars as pertinent examples of films that don’t hold back on the emotionally harrowing trials of teenhood.
YA fiction can be very fulfilling in all its different subcategories. Still, not many have really gotten down to the nitty gritty like The Hate U Give has. It doesn’t just examine puppy love and school drama with a distancing lens. Instead, The Hate U Give will tackle police brutality, and its approach holds nothing back. Watch the trailer below.
Based on Angie Thomas’s bestselling novel of the same name, The Hate U Give follows Starr Carter (Amandla Stenberg), a teenager who is caught in the middle of two vastly different worlds. She lives in a mostly black neighborhood that’s impoverished but tight-knit, and yet she and her brothers attend a moneyed prep school in the suburbs with mostly white students who definitely do not perceive injustice — even life as a whole — in the same way.
As it is, Starr hates having to balance what feels like two conflicting identities; one at school, complete with a secret boyfriend (KJ Apa), and one at home with her family and the friends she grew up with. However, both her worlds collide when her childhood best friend, Khalil (Algee Smith), is shot by a white police officer; Khalil had but a hairbrush in his hand. Starr must then choose to stand up for what is right and speak for her friend, even if it means upending everything about life as she knows it. Rounding out an all-star cast on The Hate U Give are Regina Hall, Russell Hornsby, Issa Rae, Sabrina Carpenter, Common, and Anthony Mackie.
Already, The Hate U Give combines the best of YA fiction with some grounded realism that sets it apart from even the most politically conscious works we’ve seen of the genre so far. Because there are no two ways about this: Thomas’s book is about racism and what happens when you acknowledge it for its overt ugliness as well as its more microaggressive undertones. More than merely engaging with metaphorical depictions of injustice (for example, The Hunger Games and its commentary on vicious exploitative capitalism, which coincidentally also starred Stenberg), The Hate U Give is very much about systemic oppression of all degrees that is reflected in daily life, and it’s a story that operates without a hint of shyness about that fact.
There is certainly timeliness to The Hate U Give, which crystallizes an incident that fits right into the real-life Black Lives Matter campaign in a such a heart-wrenching and full-bodied way. The novel portrays concepts of family, loyalty, friendship, and community that intertwine to deal with the ripple effects of Khalil’s death. Meanwhile, outside forces such as the media and a lax police investigation mar the impression of an innocent young man. Starr has to speak up on behalf of her friend to clear his name. Yet, her school friends and family members, as well as other peripheral members of both her communities and even an assortment of gang members also tangle up in the fray as tensions reach a boiling point.
Yet amidst these tensions simply lies the story of a struggling teenage girl, one who lived a relatively normal — if compromised — life up until this earth-shattering incident. Told in the first-person, “The Hate U Give” importantly gives readers an opportunity to fill Starr’s shoes and get to know her internal conflicts, and the specificity of her ordeal inspires so much empathy. Thomas’s book seeks to teach via understanding and lays the foundation for what is bound to be one of the most important YA adaptations to come out this year.
Despite its YA moniker in the book world, The Hate U Give has the potential to be extraordinarily poignant and relevant beyond its years. The film arrives in theaters on October 19th.