The fight for the soul of America is well underway on the big screen.

One of the consequences of Trump’s election, I cynically predicted, would be that we would soon see theaters flooded with a sort of cinematic shock therapy: Artists would take extreme measures in an effort to revive the American conscience. They would strive to save us from fascism; embarrass us with how easily we embrace lies and become pawns for villains; and remind us of a vision that we can make “liberty and justice for all” a reality. And we the moviegoers would suffer through bleak and despairing prophecies, endure heavy-handed history lessons on foundational American ideals, and hear angry sermons about Civil Rights and equality shouted through megaphones.

Lo, my prediction is coming true. The cineplexes are saturated with dystopic fantasies and near-hysterical lessons in all caps. And I could respond to these trends with a high-minded speech about how movies that preach are doomed to mediocrity, and about how I’d much prefer to see beauty and imagination and subtlety and poetry and, well… art. I would mean every word of it.

But I would also be guilty of hypocrisy. Film criticism is an art, too, when it’s done well. And here I am, ranting about politics, contradicting my own standards. Perhaps I’m feeling some panic. Perhaps I’m realizing that I’d rather do what I can to help those who are immediately threatened by a rising tide of hatred than withdraw and savor my favorite Subtlety Cinema.

A family finds itself caught between a corrupt police force and drug dealers in The Hate U Give.

Having said that, I’d like to turn my attention to The Hate U Give, a hastily produced adaptation of a celebrated Young Adult novel by Angie Thomas. Directed by George Tillman Jr, this feels more like a blockbuster After-School Special than an event of literary significance. I hadn’t planned on seeing it because I could pick up its urgent messages a mile away. But the buzz about the movie’s performances has been strong. And as I frequently preach to my film classes about America’s need for greater diversity in mainstream movies, I want to support occasions like this that set new standards.

I am pleased to report that the buzz about lead actress Amandla Stenberg is absolutely legit.

Playing sixteen-year-old Starr, she convinces us of a young woman’s harrowing metamorphosis from a code-switching private school student to an inspirational “Black Lives Matter” protestor. The opening scenes effectively illustrate her double life: In her mostly white private school, she downplays anything that could be perceived as “ghetto,” while at home she has to face the low-income hardships of being black in America, mentored by a father determined to save his children from the cycle of disadvantage, crime, and incarceration that he knows all too well.

Starr and Kahlil: a reunion goes wrong.

When a typical neighborhood party goes gunshot-wrong, and her charismatic friend Kahlil (Algee Smith) puts some distance between them and the scene of shots fired, it’s easy to guess what the major turn will be. Sure enough, a white cop finds them. Sure enough, the stuff of daily headlines in America goes down.

Traumatized, Starr is launched into brutal awakenings to the extremes of white privilege; to the exploitative nature of the news media during such events; to the way that a truth-teller’s moral courage can make hard times much, much worse. And Stenberg nails every scene. I believed in her character. I believed in her family, particularly her father, played with soft-spoken authority by Russell Hornsby.

But my belief — or, rather, my suspension of disbelief — was frequently disrupted. This is a cast of characters in wildly inconsistent stages of development. Some are more than halfway convincing; others aren’t even substantial enough to deserve names. For example, ‘Neighborhood Drug Lord’ would’ve served Anthony Mackie just fine. Chris (K.J. Apa) isn’t much more than ‘Starr’s White Boyfriend Who Doesn’t See Color.’ And Hailey (Sabrina Carpenter), whose friendship with Starr rapidly devolves, seems to exist only so Starr has a chance to smack down the “All Lives Matter” attitude — and makeup artists seem to have gone to distracting extremes to make her look like the whitest white girl on the planet.

Starr begins to wonder who her real friends are.

What’s more — every chapter here is calculated to teach. I developed an allergy to evangelical entertainment at an early age, and while I’m impressed with most of the performances here, I got twitchy during the sermons. They kept jarring me out of scenes that had begun to spark with life and nuance. The movie tries to stuff so many lessons into is final chapters that I lost my grip on belief and started checking my watch. It runs about fifteen minutes too long, concluding with a climactic showdown that I’d be surprised to find in the novel; it feels like a focus-grouped finale.

And yet, for all of its troubles, I don’t really mind the movie’s mediocrity. America needs raised voices and simple illustrations on matters regarding equality, civil rights, white privilege, the influence of racism on law enforcement, and the prevalence of police officers who shoot first and don’t ask any questions at all. This might be an important formative experience for young moviegoers. There’s a purpose and a place for After-School Special entertainment. Let’s just acknowledge that its relevance doesn’t make it great art.

Starr and Chris face more tests than most high school couples ever experience.

In a way, The Hate U Give reminds me most of my experience with Ava DuVernay’s take on A Wrinkle in Time: It’s an entertaining two hours, remarkable in its focus on a compelling young African American girl, elevated by an admirable cast, but compromised by the motivational-speech quality of the dialogue. Its eagerness to educate and inspire keeps breaking the spell of story.

But the fact is that America is the kind of crisis that W.B. Yeats had in mind when he wrote those famous concluding lines in “The Second Coming.” It does seem, alas, that we find ourselves in a world where “the best lack all conviction” and that “the worst are full of passionate intensity.” The passengers of our American ship have invited pirates to become both captain and crew, and now they’re feigning ignorance and looking for someone else to blame as those pirates do what pirates do: rip off the valuables, prepare their escape, and dismantle the ship mid-voyage. The destruction is accelerating as the pirates fan flames of hatred and throw the passengers into chaos. That flag that says “freedom, equality, democracy” is quickly becoming anachronistic, the lie of it exposed. So, maybe we need both right now: artists who give us a vision of beauty that transcends the moment and artists who scramble to save the ship from sinking by picking up a megaphone and shouting instructions. We need poetry and beauty and profundity and we need some lesson-heavy entertainment, some megaphone movies that represent the protest, that shout — as so many have become hard of hearing — that we should stop killing our brothers and sisters.

I’m glad that both movies — A Wrinkle in Time and The Hate U Give — are out in the world right now, flaws and all. As preachy productions go, this movie is a stirring sermon that has me saying “Amen! Lord, hear our prayer.”