The Best of Enemies

Yesterday, my wife and I watched a movie released last year called “The Best of Enemies.” It stars Taraji P. Henson and Sam Rockwell in true story about the debate over integrating schools in Durham, NC in 1971. Henson stars as Ann Atwater, an outspoken (self-described) African-American community organizer, while Rockwell stars as C.P. Ellis, the Durham chapter president of the KKK. They are asked to chair a two-week group meeting called a charrette to flesh out possible resolutions to the African-American school being partially destroyed by fire with lingering toxic fumes.

The movie is excellent and reveals the tensions, scheming, learning and fighting that went on. It also permits a deeper dive into the lives of the people in the middle of this fight. Realizing the similarity of all of us, empathy begins to emerge.

I will try not to spoil the movie. It is based on the best selling book “The Best of Enemies: Race and redemption in the New South” by Osha Gray Davidson. The film was written and directed by Robin Bissell, with co-writing credits to Davidson. It also stars Babou Ceesay as Bill Riddick, a mediator who plays a huge role in bringing the people together. Key roles are played by Ann Heche, the wife of Ellis, Bruce McGill, a closet supporter of the KKK as a councilman, and John Gallagher, Jr., a former Vietnam veteran who plays a pivotal role.

The movie did not receive rave reviews, but that may be due to its closeness to reality painting obvious bias and hatred into the plot. It is inspiring, troubling, and believable. I was in the middle of the integration of schools and remember it well. My schools integrated in 1971 and, to be frank, it went off reasonably well. It did not do so well in other communities or may be other schools. Yet, I think this relates to the leaders behind the effort in each community and school.

Let me know what you think. Give it a look. Rockwell and Henson are terrific actors and bring their passion to each project. Rockwell, in particular, plays complicated characters quite well. Also, do you remember integration efforts in the early 1970s?

6 thoughts on “The Best of Enemies

  1. It sounds like a movie well worth seeing and I will see if I can get it with captioning online. Your post shows me just how behind the times I am, for with the exception of Anne Heche, I’ve never heard of any of those actors! Though there was no school segregation in any of the places I lived during the 50s & 60s, I well remember reading about the fights in many areas in the south, and most vividly recall the stories of Ruby Bridges, the Little Rock Nine, and others. Thanks for the movie suggestion … if I see it, I’ll be sure to let you know what I thought.

    • Jill, I think you will enjoy it. Taraji P. Henson starred in “Hidden Figures” about the African-Americans who helped NASA with their computations. Sam Rockwell was the bad killer in “The Green Mile,” played the bigoted deputy in “Three Billboards outside of Ebbing, Missouri” and was the changed Nazi in “Jo Jo Rabbit.”


      • I’ve still got “Hidden Figures” on my tbw list, but I did see The Green Mile long ago, so I did know Sam Rockwell!!! I think Jo Jo Rabbit is on my watchlist, too. I did find that I can watch “The Best of Enemies” for free on Amazon, and I watched the trailer this afternoon. I may try to start the movie tonight! Thanks!

      • Jill, I hope you enjoy. There are a couple of teaching moments therein, so I look forward to reading your thoughts. Keith

  2. I was in high school in Baltimore when the order came down to integrate the schools. We already had a number of black students in the “A” program at our school so most of the students wanted to know what all the fuss was about. But fuss there was — outside the school in the streets of Baltimore. There are times (like the present) when some folks show us sides of themselves we would rather deny are there!

    • Hugh, so true. Like you, I was an athlete and in college track courses. When on a team, you have to be a good teammate or you won’t play.

      Fear is a powerful emotion. But, just like an athlete gets less fearful, once the action begins, the students can be less fearful once the interaction begins. Keith

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