It's a well done and often emotional journey that begins with a father giving his three young children—ages 9, 7, and 1—"the talk," which goes something like this:
(1) "It's inevitable we're going to be pulled over [some day, together].
(2) When we do, keep your hands on the dashboard or otherwise in plain sight. Don't fish for your license, insurance, or phone, and don't reach inside the console or the glovebox.
(3) Maintain eye contact with the officer.
(4) Be polite, answer every question truthfully, present your license and proof of insurance only when directed to, and always/always/always obey orders:
(a) 'Compliance should keep you alive.'
(b) 'Belligerence might get you bullets.'"
Following that heaping helping of foreshadowing, can you guess what happens next?
You guessed it: Years later, one of our dimple-faced, teenage protagonists takes offense at being pulled over following a shootout at a neighborhood house party, argues with the [white] police officer, steps out of the car waving his arms around, and blammo, we're into the tragically all-too-common news cycle that includes street marches, the grand jury that fails to find reasonable evidence to indict, the City Hall skirmish replete with busted windshields and storefront Molotov cocktails, and characters who proceed from funeral to wake to news station to police station to courthouse to kitchen to couch and back again, at least three full circuits in a two-hour film.
The acting is quite good, if not somewhat one dimensional, as each seems to play his/her stereotyped part and little else.
Our primary protagonist, Starr (played by relative newcomer Amandla Stenberg), is really great. You may recall her from August's The Darkest Minds (Ruby Daly) or 2012's The Hunger Games (Rue), though she's actually been featured in 22 productions since 2011. Her, ahem, star will burn bright, as she's a wonderfully talented actress with great charisma.
Regina Hall, Anthony Mackie, and Common are all solid, too, but my hands-down favorite actor in the film is Starr's dad, played here by Russell Hornsby. His character, Maverick, is equal parts tough and tender, and every time I cried it was because he was involved and trying to stitch his beleaguered family back together after a run-in with the world. He really seems to 'get it,' and the frustration, rage, and hollowness he portrays at his lot in life, "the cycle, the trap," and the fates befalling those he loves (who fail to keep their hands on the dash), is wildly moving and terribly haunting.
Institutional racism is far more complicated and nuanced than all this, of course, as Common makes more than clear in one of his many mini-motivational pep talks, and it's also clear to everyone involved that for every three steps forward taken by our ensemble family, someone—or something—takes 'em right back to square one.
Common's character, Carlos, is a cop and also Starr's uncle, and I think he best captures the nut of the film's conundrum when Starr eventually asks him, "What would you have done if the driver was white? Would you have shot him when he waved his arms around, or [instead] yelled for him to simply put his hands up?" "Put his hands up," he replies soberingly.
And there, in an instant, we are reminded the differential of bias, and why—in our maddeningly imperfect, unfair, and unjust world—it's not, as Starr concludes, just "the hate you give," but also "the hate we give." She finds her truth there, and her voice, and we are the wiser for it, hopeful that if not preceding or present generations, perhaps it will be hers that most fully actualizes the possibilities and potential, shattering the glass and escaping the surly bonds of our stratosphere once and for all.
There will always be bigotry, because fear is a base emotion fomented at the drop of any ol' bright red cap as if the matador himself were egging us on with the waving of his fiery cape, and ignorance is as natural and handy a state as homeostasis, but such gravities are unequivocally defied by the aspirations and actions of genuine patriots and the buoyancy of truth, the latter perhaps best summarized by Theodore Parker some 168 years ago when he wrote, "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice."
Indeed it does. #TruthRises and #LoveWins
Enough division and death. Time now for a more sustainable, united humankind woven together on the loom of everlasting love.