Review of The Best of Enemies
Bright Blessings, Film Lovers!
At age 47, I thought I had seen it all when it came to movies. The last thing that was a completely new idea that I have seen is The Human Centipede, which, yes, I loved it and also parts 2 and 3. A film I watched today showed me that I have not seen it all and I can’t express how happy I am about that.
Watching the film about the ex KKK leader and a black civil rights leader and how they teamed up to fight segregation was something completely new to me. It earned over $10 million at the American box office after its release in 2019 and while critics didn’t rave about it, I am going to. The film is called the Best of Enemies, and here is its official trailer.
The film portrays events in 1971 in Durham, North Carolina that really happened. The school where African American children attended caught on fire, and parents wanted their kids to be able to finish school, so they petitioned to have the schools integrated. To those who don’t know just how bad things were in 1971, which was really not all that long ago, schools in the United States were segregated by race back then.
Some people would assume that after the Emancipation Proclamation, equality was the rule of the land, but a sinister force arose after segregation. The Jim Crow laws, which kept black people separate from white people. These laws started in the 1870’s and were enforced until the Civil Rights Movement, which fought discrimination. The Ku Klux Klan, which was comprised of white men who wanted to make sure whites were treated as a superior race, arose in the 1860’s and had a resurgence in the early 1900’s. In the film, the leader of the local KKK chapter is called upon by local government to intimidate black people who organized for fair housing practices, but that was before the school burned.
After the school burned, the local government did not care that black children needed a place to attend school and sent them back to their burned building. Then, the NAACP stepped in. After that, a man named Bill Riddick was called to town to try and organize the people of the town to vote on a solution. He elected two co-chairs of meetings he called charrettes, and one was of course C.P. Ellis, head of the KKK and Ann Atwater, the local Civil Rights activist and community organizer who was fighting for the fair housing.
What developed was the most surprising of friendships between the two and a complete change of heart from the KKK leader. While I was watching the film, I was thinking to myself “Wouldn’t it be nice if such a thing really happened.” Guess what? It did, and the story of C.P. and his dear friend Ann took the world by storm. It brings up the fact that there is an ugly truth people don’t know about adults who become the cause of the problems that society struggles with.
They were not born that way. They learned to be that way and in C.P.’s case, his father was heavily involved with the KKK. They were poor, and I don’t mean food stamps poor. I mean dirt poor. C.P. was looked down on and struggled financially as an adult. He believed all he had been told about black people being the cause of the white man’s woes. He was eventually invited to Klan gatherings and rose in the ranks to the local leadership where he was finally accepted and treated with respect for the first time in his life. Unfortunately, it wasn’t all nice men getting together to engage in brotherly love in a fraternal order. The film fairly portrays the violent menacing the Klan participated in by showing them shooting up a white girls’s house because she dated a black man.
A lot of people don’t know what the South was like in 1971. I sort of do, because I was born in Evansville, Indiana in 1975. I was raised by a white woman to hate people of color. I was told they smelled bad and that black men were all to be suspected of trying to hurt people, especially white women. I was told it was filthy if white people and black people dated or married each other, and the n word was a big part of the vocabulary a lot of white adults used around me. Some white people don’t understand why the Black Lives Matter movement fights so hard. I do. I lived in the world that sought to keep black people downtrodden, and I remember the resentment I heard white adults speaking about how “they think they are better than us” when black people just wanted equal rights. The problems did not start in 1971, but unfortunately they are not resolved today.
The acting in the film blurs the line between film and reality, especially if you lived in the South decades ago. The actor who portrays C.P. is Sam Rockwell, whose ability to transform for every character he plays is unbelievable. The costumes made every actor look like somebody who was from another time, but costumes only go so far. Rockwell somehow managed to adapt the 1970’s “good old boy” look so many blue collar Southern men had when I was a kid. The swagger and body language down to how he held a beer and stuck out his belly made me feel like I was back in Valdosta, Georgia as an elementary school child.
At the end of the film, we get to see real interview clips with Ann and C.P., the heroes of the story. That’s where the most beautiful part of the story is revealed. They became good friends and helped take care of each other’s children. 30 years later, they were still close, and when C.P. died, Ann gave the eulogy at his funeral. It was not given by some high ranking KKK officer.
The most magical truth of the entire film is the fact that race is not what makes us superior or inferior. It’s how we treat one another. C.P. realized that early on in the story but was originally fighting it. When it came down to it, what changed his mind was not something he heard at a KKK rally, but what he saw in the black community that he had not experienced. People helped each other, and although he had basically declared himself an enemy of all people of color, Ann made a gesture to help him before he had his change of heart. People in the KKK could have stepped in to help, but guess what? They didn’t. Ann touched his heart.
Another magical truth is that the powers that be will pit the most disadvantaged groups in society against one another to keep themselves in power, and C.P. realized that poor white people and people of color were equally hated and mistreated by privileged society. One of the most powerful forms of magic is sacrifice. C.P. watched Ann sacrifice her peace of mind, and personal time to fight for what she knew to be right even though the lawmakers in town ignored her. In the end, he made the ultimate sacrifice to do what he knew was right, and it created a magnificent magical change that benefited everybody.
This story shows some great magical truths. Sometimes, the powerful people in society can be against you, but if you gather enough people to fight for change, it might take time, but positive change will happen. Do you have what it takes to stick to your guns and work long and hard for that magical outcome or will you give up because the magic did not manifest instantly? Ann’s magic held strong to the end, and she created the change she believed in. C.P.’s magic was to think for himself after decades of manipulation and indoctrination. Under all the hatred he had been taught was a beautiful heart of a man who wanted to do what was right. Together, their magic changed the world.
If two people who are sworn enemies can come together to create a better world, just think of what allies can do if they organize well? I have written enough. It’s time for you to go watch this inspiring true story of love, change, and creating a better world.
About the Author:
Saoirse is a practicing witch, and initiated Wiccan of an Eclectic Tradition.
A recovered Catholic, she was raised to believe in heaven and hell, that there is only one god, and only one way to believe. As she approached her late 20’s, little things started to show her this was all wrong. She was most inspired by the saying “God is too big to fit into one religion” and after a heated exchange with the then associate pastor of the last Xtian church she attended, she finally realized she was in no way Xtian, and decided to move on to see where she could find her spiritual home.
Her homecoming to her Path was after many years of being called to The Old Ways and the Goddess, and happened in Phoenix, Arizona. She really did rise from her own ashes!
Upon returning to Ohio, she thought Chaos Magic was the answer, and soon discovered it was actually Wicca. She was blessed with a marvelous mentor, Lord Shadow, and started a Magical Discussion Group at local Metaphysical Shop Fly By Night. The group was later dubbed A Gathering of Paths. For a few years, this group met, discussed, did rituals, fellowship, and volunteering together, and even marched as a Pagan group with members of other groups at the local gay Pride Parade for eight years.
All the while, she continued studying with her mentor, Lord Shadow, and she became a Third Degree High priestess in 2022. She belongs to the Black Dragon Clan.