Actress Taraji P. Henson plays Durham civil rights activist on the big screen

“The Best of Enemies” tells story of Ann Atwater and former Ku Klux Klan leader C.P. Ellis and their surprising friendship in a segregated South.

Sam Rockwell, Babou Ceesay and Taraji P. Henson star in

Pictured l to r: Sam Rockwell, Babou Ceesay and Taraji P. Henson star in "The Best of Enemies." Photo credit: Annette Brown. courtesy of STXfilms.

Why this story matters: Charlotte was the site of the 1971 Supreme Court decision that led to a district-wide busing plan to promote integration of local schools. The city became a model across the country. Not too far away in Durham, Bull City was facing its own challenges with school desegregation.


“The Best of Enemies” is based on a true story that took place right down the street in Durham. The movie brings Osha Gray Davidson’s 1996 book to the big screen. The story chronicles the unlikely friendship between fearless Black activist Ann Atwater and local Ku Klux Klan leader C.P. Ellis during the early ‘70s.

With obvious opposing views, the pair is forced to come together and head a committee that will determine if Durham schools should be integrated. In the process of leading their respective supporters, the two form a friendship that no one saw coming, not even them.

the-best-of-enemies-photo

Photo credit: Annette Brown. courtesy of STXfilms.

I attended an advanced screening for the upcoming film starring Taraji P. Henson and Sam Rockwell. Although a native Charlottean, I didn’t know much about the backstory or the movie. Luckily, I was able to watch the trailer to get a better idea of what was in store.

I must admit, I was a bit skeptical to see Henson play this role. For me, it’s something about her playing roles where she has to take on an accent, especially a Southern one. I was worried that my ability to focus on the film’s underlying message would be lost in trying to focus on her mastering an accent that is foreign to her. But, all was not lost.

Overview

The movie begins with an introduction to Ann Atwater, played by Henson. We quickly learn she’s a strong Black woman who won’t settle for the word ‘no.’ She’s the voice of Black people in her community and they trust her to fight their battles.

On the contrary, the next scene shows C.P. Ellis (played by Rockwell) leading one of his regular Klansman meetings. While he is deemed a leader among “his people,” we kinda get the idea that it’s something a little off with confidence in his position.

After a local Black elementary school catches fire, it is up to the local councilman to decide if the Black children should be allowed to attend the local white elementary school.

As predicted, the councilman votes no and the NAACP steps in to give a little extra push. A committee is later formed which is when Atwater and Ellis are forced to “work together.”

We see the ups and downs of these two people who appear so different on the outside, yet so similar on the inside. We see a surprising bond formed that will almost move you to tears.

Overall reaction

Overall, I think it was a good movie. It was a bit predictable at times, but I was glad to see that humor was added to a subject that can be uncomfortable for most, even in 2019. I wish the writers would have given us more on the actual friendship between the two, but I guess you can’t show everything in a two-hour window. In the end, it was great to see a Black woman save the day and become the “shero” of some not-so-predictable situations.

Movie rating: B-

“The Best of Enemies” opens in theaters on Friday, April 5.


DeAnna Taylor is a writer, blogger, attorney and traveler. When she’s not writing or on a plane heading to a new country, you can find her on social media sharing flight deals. Follow her on Instagram at @brokeandabroadlife.

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