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REVIEW: ‘The Best of Enemies’ has a message of hope for our divided culture

April 5th, 2019 / By: Michael Foust / comments

REVIEW: ‘The Best of Enemies’ has a message of hope for our divided culture

Credit STX

Ann is an outspoken civil rights activist who has never had an opinion she didn’t want to share.

C.P. is a low-keyed Klu Klux Klan president who has never seen a black person he didn’t hate.

They come from opposite sides of town and opposite ends of the ideological spectrum, and now they’re being asked to find common ground on an issue -- school integration -- that has divided the city of Durham, N.C.

The inspiring historical drama The Best of Enemies (PG-13) opens this weekend, telling the unlikely true story of how a black woman (Ann Atwater) and a white racist (C.P. Ellis) helped end school segregation in a corner of North Carolina in 1971 when hatred and racial strife were dominating local politics.

One of the city’s black schools had been damaged in a fire, forcing Durham officials to try and find a new home for hundreds of black students. With white city officials dragging their feet in integration and neither side willing to budge, a judge ordered a 10-day charrette -- a forum in which two sides come together to try and forge an agreement. The 12-member council included six black people and six white people, with Atwater and Ellis leading their respective sides. At the end of the 10 days, they voted.    

The film stars Taraji P. Henson (Hidden Figures) as Atwater, Sam Rockwell (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) as Ellis, and Babou Ceesay (A.D. The Bible Continues) as charrette organizer Bill Riddick. All three are spectacular.

The Best of Enemies is historical drama at its finest, although its inclusion of racial slurs and other strong language may repel some moviegoers.

The movie’s spiritual themes (reconciliation, redemption and standing up for righteousness) shine through the hate-filled rhetoric. Ann Atwater had a salty tongue -- in the film and in real life -- but she was a churchgoer, too.    

“Same God [that] made you made me,” Ann tells C.P.

Warning: moderate/major spoilers!

(Scale key: none, minimal, moderate, extreme)

Violence/Disturbing

Moderate. We see KKK members shoot into a single woman’s home after they learn she is dating a black man. (She survives.) Later, they break into her home and threaten to harm her unless she says she’s not friends with black people. (They make her use the n-word.)

Sexuality/Sensuality/Nudity

Minimal. A woman is seen in a bra.

Coarse Language

Moderate. N-word (19), h-ll (6), d--n (3), a-- (2), s--t (2), misuse of “Christ” (1), GD (1).

Life Lessons

It’s difficult to watch The Best of Enemies and not see parallels to our modern-day divided society, where hostility is the norm, goodwill is rare, and trust is nearly nonexistent.  

Thankfully, Ann and C.P. demonstrate a better way, even if they do get off to a rough start.

We learn lessons about loving your enemy and doing good to those who hate you. (Ann goes out of her way to help C.P.’s mentally challenged son, who is institutionalized.)

We learn that hate-filled hearts can change, if we are patient. (C.P., by the end of the film, views black people in a different light.)

We learn the benefits of relationships, community and conversations. (Both sides watch their preconceptions disappear when they are forced to talk to and work alongside one another.)

We learn that talking to one another -- instead of about one another -- can solve problems. (Imagine that!)  

It’s easy to hate a person you’ve never met. It’s much more difficult when you’re face to face, learning about their problems, their weaknesses. Pretty soon, you discover you have a lot in common.

Perhaps America could benefit from a charrette in 2019.

Worldview/Application

Jesus commanded us: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you” (Luke 6:27). We see that demonstrated in The Best of Enemies -- so much so that C.P. begins doubting what he’s been taught about other races. “I’m the president of the Klan. I’m supposed to hate black folks,” he says.

It isn’t a faith-based film, but it has more spiritual themes than seen in most mainstream movies.

The final 15 minutes drove me to tears and had me clapping, too.

Discussion Questions

  1. What led C.P. to change his views about other races?
  2. Do you think a modern-day charrette would work?
  3. Name three biblical lessons from The Best of Enemies.
  4. Was Ann’s outspokenness helpful or harmful?

Entertainment rating: 4 out of 5 stars. Family-friendly rating: 3 out of 5 stars.

Rated PG-13 for thematic material, racial epithets, some violence and a suggestive reference.