29 Days Of Black History – Day 23: The Best of Enemies

Release Date:  4/5/19
Genre:  Drama/Biography
Rating:  PG-13
Director:  Robin Bissell
Studio(s):   Astute Films, Material Pictures, STXfilms
Running Time:   133 mins.
Cast:  Taraji P. Henson, Sam Rockwell, Babou Ceesay, Anne Heche, Wes Bentley, Bruce McGill, John Gallagher, Jr., Nick Searcy, Sope Aluko.
Story:  Based on the book The Best of Enemies: Race and Redemption in the New South by Osha Gray Davidson, which focuses on the rivalry between civil rights activist Ann Atwater and Ku Klux Klan leader C. P. Ellis.

1971: at Durham, in North Carolina, Ann Atwater tries to get better housing conditions for poor black people, and is ignored by the all white judge panel. C.P. is the president of the KKK, and is shown as a loving family man.  Ann’s daughter’s school catches on fire (whether by accident or arson is unclear), and C.P. is afraid that the black children will come to the white schools. Bill Riddick sets up a meeting with the both of them, to discuss segregation and other issues.

At first, they both refuse since they hate each other, but then they are convinced. C.P. refuses to sit with Bill and Ann, since they are black and he is white.  They agree to pick some people randomly from the group to vote on the issues at the end of the meeting sessions. C.P tries to talk to these selected to vote, but is mostly rebuffed.  Bill makes the blacks and whites in their group sit next to each other in the cafeteria and eat. He makes C.P and Ann sit together alone. They eat in tense silence, then Ann asks C.P. if he has a boy in Murdock. C.P. hotly says that he won’t talk about his boy. Murdock is a facility that takes care of disabled boys, and his son has Down Syndrome.

C.P. is called to Murdock, and he rushes over. His disabled son, Larry, has been put in the same room with another disabled boy. The other boy is screaming, upsetting Larry. C.P. demands that his son be placed in a room of his own, but the nurses tell him that he can’t afford it. Later, Ann visits Larry and asks a favor from Bernadette, who works there to put Larry in his own room.

Bill takes Ann, C.P., and the rest of their group to visit the black school that was burned. C.P. is shocked by damage. C.P.’s wife, Mary, is overjoyed with Ann’s help, and goes to visit her to thank her. Ann asks her if C.P. has always been racist, and Mary says yes.  The night before the final vote, C.P.’s KKK troublemaking friends threaten the selected voters to vote for segregation. C.P. finds out about this and is dismayed. Ann also finds about it and screams at C.P., calling him a coward.  During the voting, all the issues pass, coming down to the final issue of desegregation. One by one, the voters vote. Ann votes for it, and C.P., surprising everyone, does the same, realizing the KKK is hateful. Also, he makes a speech and rips up his KKK membership card, much to the fury of his KKK friends. They threaten him and try to set the gas station that he owns on fire but C.P. puts it out. Now that the white community won’t buy his gas anymore, his station is going out of business. Ann and Bill visit him with smiles and they bring in the black community to buy from him instead.

The film reveals that the real life Ann and C.P. went around to different cities together, to talk about their experiences and remained friends to the end of C.P.’s life, with Ann giving the eulogy at his funeral.  Source:  Wikipedia; IMDB.

Trailer: