Recommendation: 4/5 Stars, SHOWTIME
Plot: “Civil rights activist Ann Atwater faces off against C.P. Ellis, Exalted Cyclops of the Ku Klux Klan, in 1971 Durham, North Carolina over the issue of school integration.”
Review: In the wake of “Green Book” winning Best Picture at this year’s Oscars, I must say that I am a little nervous to write this review. “The Best of Enemies” follows a similar storyline ending with a “white savior” who ends up on the right side of history. Still, like “Green Book,” it resonated with me. Perhaps it did so because I am a white male who has only a surface level understanding of his privilege. Perhaps it did so because of the unique true story of having a former Klansman and a civil rights activist come together and learn from each other. I am aware that it is probably a combination of the two.
We know C.P. Ellis (Sam Rockwell), The Exalted Cyclops of the Ku Klux Klan in Durham, North Carolina is capable of compassion. We see it in the love he shows for his wife and children, one of whom is intensely special needs. Yet, his compassion is unable to extend beyond those of his race. This first becomes evident when a school on the other side of town, home to mostly African American students, burns to the ground. With nowhere to send the students, Durham faces the question of integration through mediation. For C.P., this cannot stand and brings him face-to-face with Ann Atwater (Taraji P. Henson). Ann is a tireless advocate working for a seat at the table.
These two sworn enemies begin clashing when a charrette is called to work through differences set in stone. As an audience member, C.P. and his way of looking at the world is frustrating. For this to even be a debate is beyond ludicrous, but I get to hold that view with history on my side. I believe the intention here is frustration. It is supposed to upset you that once again African Americans are being forced to pull the levers of equality and show their worth. It is supposed to be maddening that the olive branch between the two falls on Ms. Atwater’s shoulders. If these things aren’t true for you, then we have much bigger issues.
Spoiler Alert! Eventually, C.P. makes the right decision, but he finds himself backed into a corner by his fellow Klansmen to do so. Only after meeting the other and discovering that we aren’t so different after all does he summon the courage to stand on the right side of history and cast a deciding vote for integration. By doing so, he pays a high cost. As the credits roll, we are left to think about this film, its messages, and how these stories are told. This debate and the conversations that follow are why this film is worth seeing.
Be good to each other,
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