BEST OF ENEMIES
by Chris Dugopolski and Mary Cox
This is one of those movies that everyone should see, because it may make some people change the way they think about others. This is a true story about events that took place in Durham, North Carolina in 1971. Ann Atwater, played by Academy Award Nominee Taraji P. Henson, is a black activist and C. P. Ellis, played by Academy Award winner Sam Rockwell is the Grand Cyclops of his local Ku Klux Klan. They each are chosen to chair a side of a charette, defined as, “a meeting in which all stakeholders in a project attempt to resolve conflicts and map solutions.” The conflict in this case is what is to be done with the black students whose school has just been damaged by fire. According to the black community the school is uninhabitable and the students need to be integrated into the other schools in the area and even bussed if needed, but the white people want the black students to stay in their school and use the classrooms not directly damaged by the fire even though it poses danger to the children and teachers.
Robin Bissell, who adapted the screenplay from the book by Osha Gray Davidson, kept the tension high from the very beginning and brought out the best in her actors.
The movie shows some of the violence perpetrated by the ‘Klan and the emotions involved in the charette, but we get to see two very interesting portrayals of people changing. Sam Rockwell gives a wonderfully nuanced performance. It is very easy to dislike Klansman because of the hate and violence they promote; but Sam Rockwell makes that difficult. There is a very likable individual under that bigoted exterior. The fact that these two actual individuals went through the experience portrayed in the movie and wound up as friends made this quite special. Anne Heche and Babou Ceesay also give outstanding supporting performances.