Review: The Hate U Give is a social, cultural and emotional body-slam

The book this outstanding film was based on was the subject of a heated bidding war between publishers for good reason: it went straight to the top of the New York Times Bestsellers List for Young Adults the week it hit the shelves.

The film hit cinemas in the US last year and became just as beloved by critics and audiences alike, yours truly among them. What a joy to now see it finally get a release in New Zealand.

The fact this story targets the young adult audience is no reason to dismiss it beyond that - the specificity of the genre is, in this case, misleading.

As a fully grown woman with a few too many decades of life experience under my belt, I was left in tatters by the end; enriched, enlightened and altered by what I'd experienced.

At the epicentre of this powerful story is Starr Carter (Amandla Stenberg), a young African American teenager living in a mostly poor black neighbourhood. Her parents want more for her and her brother, more security and more opportunity, working hard to send them to an affluent mostly white high school a few suburbs away. 

For the bright, talented and popular Starr, this means straddling two very different worlds and being two quite different people. 

For the most part she makes it work, playing out her two Starrs with an effortless ease, happy with her rich white boyfriend Chris (KJ Apa) and her rich white friends Hailey (Sabrina Carpenter) and Maya (Megan Lawless) while living an equally happy home life with her protective parents.

That perilous tightrope she walks one day very suddenly snaps and her free-fall doesn't have a safety net.  As her double life becomes just one very tumultuous one, Starr must choose which version of her is the real one.

Finding her voice will be the hardest thing she's ever had to do.

In this Black Lives Matter climate and alongside BlacKkKlansman and Sorry To Bother YouThe Hate U Give is a social, cultural and emotional body-slam. Each of these films deals with racial inequality completely differently, but delivers fierce and defiant messages of empowerment with a raw urgency. 

As a privileged white female still in shock about how much I still have to learn about my white privilege and how little I did to earn it, it feels like a simple imperative that I embrace every opportunity I'm given to grow. 

The Hate U Give feels like just that kind of opportunity, and not only that, this is two hours of unforgettable cinematic storytelling which kept me enthralled from the opening few frames until the closing credits.

5 Stars.