After hitting it out of the ballpark with Hidden Figures, then striking out in Proud Mary, and What Men Want, Taraji P. Henson is back in the game with The Best of Enemies. Not as good as Green Book, this is a gripping true story of a black activist going head-to-head with the leader of the KKK over desegregation. The disdain, nay hatred, for each other is palpable; the tension carries throughout. Like the criticisms of Green Book, many think this movie is not raw and divisive enough. To the contrary, it does not shy away from the ugliness of the bigotry. Still, it focuses on change, reconciliation, and healing between two complete opposites who realize they have something in common. I give this movie 4 Gavels and it receives a 49% Rotten Tomatoes rating with a 74% Audience Score.
In 1971 Durham, the KKK is alive and well, C.P. Ellis, its leader. Ann Atwater, unafraid to speak up and confront the white City Council, demands better housing conditions for poor blacks. They are no strangers. Then, a black school burns. Where will the children attend school? A judge appoints a mediator to try to bring the community together. Who better to co-chair the meetings than the two polar opposites? These two can barely look at each other, let alone talk to each other. Perhaps this wasn’t such a good idea.
Taraji P. Henson and Sam Rockwell deserve Oscar nominations for their performances as Ann and C.P. For those who say Ann was a caricature of an “angry sistah,” she had plenty to be angry about. Admittedly, C.P.’s final speech was “Hollywood,” yet his unlikely conversion, with Ann’s help, is the stuff of Hollywood. Anne Heche has a very small part as C.P.’s wife. Babou Ceesay is the mediator of the “charette.’
Critics say that The Best of Enemies does not focus enough on school conditions and violence against blacks. Granted, those are described, not shown. Critics further contend that too much focus is placed on the KKK. Yet, even Ann admits you must know your enemy to defeat them. Finally, critics demand the final spotlight be on our heroine, Ann Atwater, not C.P. Ellis. The movie starts and ends with both, now deceased, in their own words and images. The spotlight is placed precisely as it should be, two friends for eternity.
Don’t let the critics scare you away. While it doesn’t have the humor of Green Book, it is just as powerful. That in 1971, people felt comfortable talking and acting like this in a city council meeting, is worth remembering, if for nothing else, in how far we’ve come. Yes, we have a ways to go, but Ann and C.P show that we can get there.