By James M. Wall
A reader suggested a film for reflection as racial tensions rise in the present moment.
I had earlier written the following review.
The Best of Enemies
Based on a true series of events in Durham, North Carolina, “The Best of Enemies” centers around a 1971 two-week meeting of citizens on the subject of school integration.
The town set up a study meeting that brought together members of the black and white communities. Its two co-chairs were Ann Atwater (Taraji P. Henson), a local Civil Rights activist, and Claiborne Paul “C.P.” Ellis (Sam Rockwell), the head of the Durham chapter of the Ku Klux Klan.
The reason the meeting — called a “charrette” — is organized is because a local judge knew he could not get away with issuing a ruling against integration, which had been the law of the land since 1954. Instead, the city invites Bill Riddick (Babou Ceesay), a black community organizer from Raleigh who has orchestrated “charrettes” in various places.
A “charrette” is not a legal proceeding. It is an example of “democracy in action,” a way for a city to take its own temperature on a hot-button issue. Henson and Rockwell are superb in their depiction of two angry leaders who have their own agendas.
The KKK involvement in local politics through intimidation and threats of violence, was strong in 1951. It is less prominent today. Be aware, however, that this film is a dramatic and at times tense look, at the American racist mind-set. It is a film that celebrates how “the best of enemies” can find common ground.
It also allows viewers of this 2019 release to look for signs of hope in our current political landscape.