Oof. Where to begin?
The Best of Enemies is based on events that took place during the summer of 1971 in Durham, North Carolina. (The film's marketing copy describes it as “the racially charged summer of 1971,” like it was the only one—nothing racially charged around here anymore!) Durham held a 10-day community forum on school integration, co-chaired by opposing town leaders: Black community organizer Ann Atwater (played here by Taraji P. Henson), and president of the local chapter for the Ku Klux Klan, C.P. Ellis (Sam Rockwell).
But even to say these people are just “opposing”—that doesn’t work. You can’t “Let’s hear them out!” or “There were very fine people on both sides!” with white supremacy, yet that’s exactly what The Best of Enemies attempts. And even if both-sides-ing this were possible (which it’s not), The Best of Enemies fails wildly. I didn’t have a stopwatch with me during the movie, but I’d wager that Henson’s Atwater gets about half as much screen time as Rockwell’s Ellis. And while Atwater was at times surrounded by Black co-leaders, none are fully formed characters, whereas there's an extensive supporting cast of white people surrounding Ellis—a guy who, by the way, repeatedly provides unnecessary yet extensive context for the pretty widely-understood concept of racism. The film opens with a voiceover from Ellis, and he’s the one who gets to deliver the big speech at the end about how far he’s come. Like the journey is fucking his, and the victory was his, and his personal growth was the point—and not, say, school integration, or even the trauma inflicted upon the Black community by having to negotiate with people who don’t believe in their basic humanity.
And, oh god, I almost forgot to mention that the conversation that most changes Ellis is with another white man who talked about having served alongside his Black friend in Vietnam. A white dude telling another white dude: “Think about it!” Yep, that's the important scene here. Not the days of agonizing work done by Black leaders and, in particular, Atwater.
Ugh, this movie is such a fucking mess. I could name another thousand problems with it, but white people have already used up more than their share of oxygen in this story, so let me just say: Enough of this shit.