By: Lana K. Wilson-Combs
Taraji P. Henson
has said that she’d love to portray legendary Motown artist Diana Ross
on the big screen.
I have no doubt that Henson could pull off that biopic with as much flair and passion as she brings to everything she does like her fierce role as Cookie Lyon on the hit TV drama, “Empire” or as she did for her Oscar nominated performance as NASA mathematician Katherine G. Johnson in the 2016 movie “Hidden Figures.”
So, it’s not surprising that Henson delivers once again, this time in the Civil Rights drama, “The Best of Enemies”
from director Robin Bissell (“The Hunger Games” and “Seabiscuit”).
“The Best of Enemies” is based on a true story and adapted from the book “The Best of Enemies: Race and Redemption in the New South” by Osha Gray Davidson.
The movie is set in Durham, N.C. and is a startling, feel-good, race relations drama. It eschews formulaic storytelling and is brought to life by its stellar cast.
Henson stars as Ann Atwater, a fearless activist who works tirelessly to better the educational and economic plight of blacks in her community. Her latest fight is ensuring that their housing needs are adequately met.
It’s not easy because she must constantly battle the lily-white city council members. Many of them are members of the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan that’s run by C.P. Ellis (a terrific Sam Rockwell, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”), a gas station owner whose wife Mary (Anne Heche, TV’s “Chicago P.D.”) can barely tolerate him. He also has three sons. One is in a psychiatric facility.
It pains C.P. that he can’t do nearly as much as he’d like for his disabled son or the rest of the family.
While those issues are a major concern, they soon pale in comparison to what C.P. is about to encounter.
The town is shaken when an electrical fire breaks out at the all black school and makes it unsafe for the students there to attend. It puts the city council on edge as they now must decide if the black kids should be bused to the white school while it’s being repaired. Doing so would integrate the schools and that has most of the whites in town mad as hell.
Mayor Carvie Oldham (the always excellent Bruce McGill, TV’s “Suits”) isn’t about to let integration happen on his watch. So, he instructs C.P. and others to do whatever it takes to make sure blacks stay in their place.
However, tensions rise when an outside Black mediator named Bill Riddick (Babou Ceesay, TV’s “Into the Badlands”) is brought in to organize and facilitate a charrette committee.
The hope is this two-week gathering of blacks and whites will bring about some constructive plans on how to move forward on the integration issue.
At first blush, this sounds like a horrible idea, especially since Riddick wants C.P. and Ann to co-chair the committee. After rounds of heated arguments from black and white residents, a bit of a compromise is reached about organizing these meetings.
But the bigger story is what occurs during the process. C.P. and Ann start listening to each other and he comes around and agrees on voting for the integration change. What’s more surprising as other personal family issues surface, is that these two develop an unlikely friendship that seriously alters their lives in a meaningful way.
That Ann and C.P. were able to find some sort of common ground and change their attitudes is remarkable.
If someone had told me about this story prior to seeing this movie, I wouldn’t have believed them. Honestly, it’s hard to wrap my head around it even after seeing it.
I don’t doubt that there was some creative license taken with the movie, however, at the end of the movie there is actual footage and interviews with the real C.P. Ellis and Ann Atwater discussing their friendship.
What I also liked about “The Best of Enemies” is that the movie doesn’t give any illusions that a magic wand was waved and all the racial animus in Durham simply disappeared. It didn’t and the movie clearly shows the price C.P. Ellis paid for his actions after it was all said and done.
These were just two people who despite the risk, realized they could find common ground and attempt to make a change.
“The Best of Enemies” is an unbelievable, inspiring and uplifting story. Henson, Rockwell and really the entire cast make it an exceptional and timely movie.
Be sure to catch my N2Entertainment.net movie talk segment on the Kitty O'Neal Show Fridays now at 6:20 p.m. on radio station KFBK 1530 AM and 93.1 FM.
Check Out This Trailer For THE BEST OF ENEMIES"
Lana K. Wilson-Combs is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics’ Association (BFCA), The Black Film Critics Circle (BFCC), The Alliance Of Women Film Journalists (AWFJ) and a Nominating Committee Voting Member for the NAACP Image Awards.