And they say the Klansman’s heart grew two sizes that day.
BQB here with a review of The Best of Enemies.
Making this movie was a gamble in this day and age. It’s based on the true story of how, in 1971, African American community organizer and civil rights activist Ann Atwater (Taraji P. Henson) and Ku Klux Klan leader CP Ellis (Sam Rockwell) came together and became unlikely friends and allies while working together on a committee that would decide whether or not to integrate a school in Durham, South Carolina.
Understandably, in this day and age, there is no forgiveness for racism, even for a racist who claims to have seen the light and claims to be reformed. Ergo, while movies such as this or “The Green Book” have stories about a racist jerk who abandons his racist ways after spending time and coming to care about black people, an ex-racist isn’t going to get a medal today. Sorry, but we live in a time now where you know not to be racist from the beginning.
Despite all that, the story does have a message that is worth noting, especially in today’s toxic political environment. In the past, school integration was such a divisive issue that you might recall the Army had to be called in to watch the backs of African American students regarding the case of Brown vs. Board of Education.
In 1971, the community of Durham took a different approach. It was decided to hold a two week meeting in which community leaders, black and white, got together to discuss their differences on the topic of integrating the local school in the wake of a fire that made the school for African American students unsuitable.
CP Ellis, the local head klansman, naturally hates the idea. Meanwhile, Ann Attwater, a tireless voice fighting for the rights of African Americans, argues the community can’t expect African American kids to learn in a burnt out husk of a ruined school building.
As the two weeks long discussion group progresses, both sides get to know each other and the underlying lesson is that if enemies would just sit down and break bread, they might realize the other is, despite all their flaws, human and compromise might be had. True, asking for a compromise with a klansman is pretty unreasonable to say the least but the message seems to be that because both sides sat down and talked rather than meet on picket lines to hurl insults, progress was made.
There’s no redemption for Ellis in today’s woke America, and no one’s arguing there should be. Still, as he sits with his arch nemesis Ann and gets to know her as a person, and then starts to get to know other African Americans, he starts to learn their plight and how wrong his actions as a klansman have been. Meanwhile, though Ann is the underdog hero in the fight and doesn’t have anything to prove to Ellis, she does get to know him and when she learns of some of his personal problems that led him to become such a hardened bastard, she starts to pity him.
I don’t know. The movie is a tough sell and the idea that a klansman could ever be welcomed back into polite society isn’t going to win much applause. However, the message that political opponents should stop hurling insults and threats and start sitting down and actually talking and finding out just what it is that the other side fears, be those fears rational or irrational, a path toward a solution might be presented.
I just finished the book the movie is based upon, and I have to wonder: does anyone ever do that before viewing films these days? Because there is No Fire in the book. The entire battle concerns civil rights and many facets of integration, not just integrating one school. You have to slog through a lot of (enlightening) history before CP and Ann even meet. CP’s wife and kids, and Ann’s family, are not especially detailed in the book. While it is possible some of the added details came from interviews and such, some of it (like the fire) seems to be woven by Hollywood, because, while truth can be stranger than fiction, it won’t always hold attention on the big screen.
That’s good history but for a movie they needed a story with some human interest