Sunday, November 3, 2019

The Best of Enemies

About two years ago it was lamented that no black actors had been nominated for an Oscar, then from my point of view appeared many notable films with black themes (and of course actors).  This past year I have viewed four black themed movies

"Green Book" was sort of a birthday present watched on the big screen and after winning the Oscar it seemed a worthy choice.  Based on true events it let me as an outsider appreciate it was a very nervy endeavor to tour the southern states.  Hypocrisy was obvious from those who enjoyed piano mastery, but denied basic decency.  As I married into an Italian family I enjoyed the black character encountering their culture in a very social way.  Also afterwards I learned that after the film events the pianist also appeared in Hamilton.

"The Hate U Give" was another movie, this time set in Jackson, Mississippi.  Caught between the white and black worlds the lead felt pressured in a murder case.  We got good insight into black struggle for dignity and being practical.  Amanda Stenberg was fantastic. 

"BlacKkKlansman" directed by Spike Lee made one feel good at how a black man fooled some bigots.  Current history hit home a few times.

If "Beale Street Could Talk"  was set up as a love story that was ruined by a racist cop.  There were a lot of complaints about the length.  Originally written by James Baldwin who set up the slow pace.  Full of stereotypical people with a lot of racism.

"The Best of Enemies" showed a different side of the issue--white alienation.  Glad I was able to see special features which included the real characters as well as cast and crew members.

"The Best of Enemies" set in Durham,North Carolina in 1971 was another battle between whites and blacks.  One difference was we were given a glimpse of white alienation.  The white leader, C.P. Ellis came from a poor background, owned a gas station and talked of his joy of being accepted by the Klu Klux Klan and later of becoming their leader.   As the events progressed and he was forced to deal with blacks to solve the problems after a black school suffered a fire he came to understand their viewpoint.  Trying to persuade a white veteran to support the segregationists he learned that a local black had  served honorably in Vietnam.  As he was concerned about his own children he came to appreciate that black parents were very concerned about their children's suffering inferior education.  He eventually voted for de-segregation and gave up his Klu Klux Klan membership.  He lost friends, suffered some sabotage at his business, but now that he was willing to serve blacks they saved his business by gassing up.

The principle black advocate was Ann Atwater.  She was a single mother and very active against civil rights abuses.  She hated whites, assuming the worst.  Chosen as a co-chairman along with C.P. Ellis she eventually appreciated all whites were not blind and that she could work with them.

The key facilitator in the events was a black man, Bill Riddick brought in from Raleigh to organize what was called a charrette a process intended as a mediation spread over 10 days.  He was very diplomatic, accepting that whites wanted to protect their interests, but by choosing the two co-chairmen and then a random selection of representative voters and then letting an open discussion of concerns.  There certainly was a risk and coercion was used on the wavering white voters  some of which was effective.  In the end the big surprise with the last decisive vote was C.P. Ellis who had completely changed his attitude.

What made the movie more real to me were special features with the real people who actually became friends and campaigned together on civil rights manner.  I was very impressed by Ann Atwater who use her physical bulk to block doors when confronted by white segregationists.

Robin Bissell was the director, writer and producer.  The idea came from Osha Gray Davidson who had written an article about the actual events.  Robin had been an executive producer of "Free State of Jones," a movie about a small section of the south that managed to be independent of the Civil War rebels.  see more

Marcelo Zaros a Brazilian wrote the music.  He had earlier done "Wonder," "Fences" and "Enough Said."

David Lanzenberg" handled the cinematography.  Earlier he had done "The Age of Adaline."

Harry Yoon was the editor.  An earlier film for him was "Detroit.
Sam Rockwell played the Klu Klux Klan leader.  Movie fans have a tendency to project personal attributes of a role.  Sam has played a lot of what might be called country bumpkins and in this film played at the beginning a prejudiced man who regularly used the n word.  To me it is acting at his finest when one can subvert their own views to project a repulsive image.  Sam also did a good job as George W. Bush in "Vice."  He won best supporting actor for "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri." 

Taraji P Henson played Ann Atwater.  Earlier in the same year she had been in "What Men Want," with a very different physical appearance and persona.  She has also appeared in "Hidden Figures." She was nominated for the Oscar best supporting actress in "The Case of Benjamin Button."  She paid for her education at Howard University as a secretary at the Pentagon during the day and as a singing/dancing waitress on a dining cruise.  An ex boyfriend and father of her child had been murdered.

Babou Ceesay, a British actor played Bill Riddick, the one who kept calm and facilitated aggressive antagonists to negotiate.  He appeared in "Eye in the Sky,"  After "The Best of Enemies" he appeared in what looks to be an interesting British tv series, "Dark Money."

Hate cannot exist without ignorance.   The process in this film would be difficult to form when circumstances are full of hate and little willingness to compromise, however an ideal to strive for.  Student exchanges are popular, but are mostly among relatively open minded people.

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