The Best of Enemies

Directed by Robin Bissell Publishing House: STXfilms Released: 04.05.19 Review by | April 4, 2019 at 8:00 PM
10
by N. Renee Brown

Basically: A Civil Rights activist and a Klan leader are forced to cooperate to decide the fate of integration in Durham, N.C. in the early 70’s.

This is one of those movies—everyone should watch it.

The Best of Enemies, based on a true story, takes us back to the early 1970’s in Durham, N.C. The “Black Elementary School” in town nearly burns to the ground and yet the city council decides the kids can continue to attend (no matter the smells or lack of classrooms). Ann Atwater, a local civil rights activist played by Taraji P. Henson, is approached by the NAACP and together they decide to sue. With a potentially disastrous (for a southern white judge in the heart of Klan county) case on his hands the judge decides to allow a “charrette” that will bring together the two disparate sides of a racially divided city.

Photo © Motion Picture Artwork2018 STX Financing, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

It is rare that I hear people clap and cheer in a movie but it happened in The Best of Enemies. I even got in on the act and surprised myself by clapping in delight in a few places. There was one especially moving scene that reminded me that I have a level of privilege I will always struggle to understand.

Sam Rockwell, whom I love, made me very uncomfortable portraying C.P. Ellis, the leader of the local Klan. He was invested in this role, throwing out n-words without hesitation and spewing hate like it is a normal acceptable thing to do. It was difficult not to hate him, even as he was growing and changing.

In contrast, Taraji P. Henson was everything I want in a fiery impassioned lead. She was outspoken and compassionate. Most impressively though was how the filmmakers portrayed Ann. The directors didn’t “pretty up” Ann Atwater just because Ms. Henson was playing her. No, they give her clumpy shoes, drooping breasts, the sheen of sweat, and traditional “mom clothes”—Taraji’s acting makes us forget Cookie from Empire, and invest totally in Ann from Durham, N.C. They are both beautiful and formidable in their own way, and I respect the courageous choice not to pull a “Hollywood makeover” on Ann.

Photo © Motion Picture Artwork2018 STX Financing, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

This story isn’t new…but since when do we want “new” when the hidden history of civil rights is being brought to light? Especially a story like this, that is full of unexpected twists that no writer could ever have imagined. I feel like The Best of Enemies is one of the best “true story” adaptations I’ve seen in a long time, relieving some of the horrible taste Green Book and Blind Side left in our mouths.

In the End: In our racially charged society, we need more movies like this. We need more people like Ann and C.P. You need to go see this movie, it deserves all the love you can give it.