The Best of Enemies tells the true story of what happened in Durham, North Carolina in 1971. Ann Atwater was a civil rights activist who fiercely defended the African American people in her community. When the school the black children attended in Durham caught fire, a proposal of allowing the children to go to school with the white children arose. O fcourse, there was a lot of pushback from white people about this, especially from the Ku Klux Klan. A man named Bill Riddick is called in to head up a charrette, which is where people come together to discuss whatever issues are at hand and eventually vote on resolutions. What ended up happening between Ann Atwater and CP Ellis (the president of the Klan) was both shocking and beautiful.
Right from the beginning, I liked how this film handled things. The film opens with soundbites of the real Ann and CP talking about this experience and how it affected them. That’s a really good way to start a film like this, with words from the real people. Then, we’re introduced to both Ann and CP, both in their respective worlds, doing what they believe in. Ann is fighting for fair housing treatment and CP is speaking at a Klan meeting, introducing new young white men to the “youth core”. I liked seeing them in their separate elements and getting a glimpse of both Ann’s struggle and CP’s frightening devotion to the Klan. Because of Henson and Rockwell’s stellar performances, we are able to see their real characters. I love how the film gave them depth. Atwater’s raw passion for racial equality is explosive and Henson handles that intensity very well. The depth the film gives to CP is in regards to his special needs son.
We don’t really get any insight as to why CP believes in the racist message of the Klan, which I did want to be explored, but I was happy to see the scenes with him and his son. Him interacting with his special needs son was telling and showed that he had a heart. There was compassion and empathy in his spirit. When you see a person who rallies for the promotion of bigotry and hate in a setting like that, you can see that there’s something to build on.
It’s also important in a film of this type to show the real dangers black people faced back then and sadly, to some extent, still do. There are multiple scenes in which Klansmen viciously attack white people just for having relations with black people. While those scenes were very effective and it was important to have them, I thought it was a little odd that there were no instances where they attacked black people. I think showing at least one scene involving that would’ve made the message even stronger.
The pacing was well done overall. The only thing I would object to is that there’s a stretch where we see a whole lot of CP and I was wanting to see more of Ann. While the film as a whole isn’t uneven, I do think it needed a little more of Ann. While they handled CP’s story and background very well and it’s crucial to see his transformation, I felt like we needed a little more of Ann’s background.
The ending was handled extremely well and I actually did tear up some during the final scene. The feeling they were going for really works and hits hard. After that final scene, they show clips of the real Ann and CP doing interviews and talking about their relationship and long lasting friendship, which made me tear up even more. That is why I say that you’ll feel uplifted when you leave. This story is just really beautiful and touching.
The Best of Enemies isn’t the best racial justice film I’ve ever seen, and yes it has a couple flaws, but nonetheless I still really enjoyed it. If a film has me tearing up by the end, then hey it must’ve done something right.