Some movies come out at the perfect time. There is so much division in this country right now. Republicans and Democrats will not even date each other much less take the time to listen to each other. Hate and intolerance has become the acceptable trade on social media, in public and in most media forms. In such a time a movie where two people of such different and insurmountable backgrounds who come together and overcome that obstacle to become lifelong friends is a message we all should be required to watch.
The movie opens with interviews from both CP Ellis and Ann Atwater. CP Ellis talks about how it felt to be inducted into the “invisible empire” and what it meant to him. Ann Atwatter discusses how she believed it was important to fight what you believe in, “whatever you believe in stand on it.” We are then introduced to CP Ellis at a clan meeting. We gain incite into his world, we see what drives him, how he thinks and how the clan prays on those who feel isolated. “We’re n endangered species you understand.” says CP, once you join “you will no longer be an outsider.” The picture painted in benign and inclusive, to white men, until the next scene when CP, Ford and two others shoot up the downstairs of a young woman’s house who is sleeping with a black man.
Ann Atwater is introduced in a councilman’s office as she argues with him about a absentee landlord who is neglecting and evicting his black tenets . Bernadette, the woman he is representing, does not even have a toilet in her house. When the councilman is flippant to their issue, she smacks him upside the head and begins to berate him. The head of the council comes in and tells her they will allow her to speak the town council meeting. This appeases her and the women leave the office.
In this way we are introduced to the two leaders of this small community in Durham, NC. Ann Atwater takes care of the black constituents and CP Ellis watches out for the white community. The two know of each other and are at odds when asked to. At the town meeting CP is asked to bring “his people” to show support for the landlord, even though even he agrees the man is a “Piece of shit.”Councilman Carvie Oldham needs to make sure he shows public support for both sides while making sure he does not let the paying constituents down. They town council is as prejudice as you’d expect a council of white men in the south in 1971 to be.
When a fire breaks out in the black school the town council responds by sending the children back to the same school! The NAACP sues to integrate all schools in Durham immediately and the judge rather than make a ruling decides to hold a Charrette. A charrette here refers to an intense period of meetings by a group of people to collaborate prior to a deadline. It was originally conceptualized in France in the 1900’s for architectural students to tackle design problems. The Charrette is when the real movie begins. It is when people really begin to listen to each other and struggle with the idea of integration and who the real enemy is. The more they work together to organize the meetings, to work on just understanding what integration of the school system would even mean, the more they understand where each side is coming from. As the vote nears tensions rise as the those in power try to ensure they will have enough votes to win.
Even knowing history and the outcome of this story I cried when CP cast his vote. I was moved by the ending of this movie. The performances were fantastic! Taraji P Henson is transformed as Ann Atwater and became the activist. The looks and glances she gives in each shot were glimpses into Atwaters state of mind. Simply withering! Sam Rockwell gave a riveting performance and I believed his struggles as he fought to be a good man for his family and “his people.” This is the writer and directorial debut of Robin Bissell and he came out with a strong piece of work. He got all of his actors to give subtle and believable performances. I urge everyone to go see this movie right away!
Best of Enemies: US Release Date 4/5/2019
Director Robin Bissell
Starring: Taraji P Hensen, Sam Rocwell, Babou Ceesay, Anne Heche, Gillbert Glenn and Bruce McGill
Distributed by: STX Films