The Best of Enemies

Posted on April 4, 2019 at 5:30 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for thematic material, racial epithets, some violence and a suggestive reference
Profanity: Strong language including racist epithets
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol, cigarettes
Violence/ Scariness: Peril and violence including racist attacks
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie, including racial and disability issues
Date Released to Theaters: April 5, 2019
Date Released to DVD: July 1, 2019
Copyright 2018 STX Entertainment

The biggest divide in this big, divided world is not between people of different races or religions or political beliefs; it is between people who have different ideas of who is “us” and who is “them.” “The Best of Enemies” is based on the true story of C.P. Ellis (Sam Rockwell), a white supremacist and the Grand Exalted Cyclops (president) of the local chapter of the Klu Klux Klan, and Ann Atwater (Taraji P. Henson), a black woman who was a community activist working for civil rights and economic justice.

In 1971, Ellis and Atwater were appointed co-chairs of a charette, a dispute resolution mechanism used to resolve complicated community disagreements. Originally developed for land use debates among parties with multiple and varied interests, it was adapted for other kinds of issues by Bill Riddick, played in this film by Babou Ceesay.

Ellis and Atwater lived in Durham, North Carolina. Seventeen years after the Brown v. Board of Education decision by the Supreme Court that segregated schools were unconstitutional, the Durham schools were still divided. When the school attended by the black children burned down, the city had to decide whether to let them attend the school the white children were attending. The court did not want to deal with it, so they asked Bill Riddick to see if he could get the community to come to some agreement.

Ann Atwater worked for Operation Breakthrough but it was more than a profession; it was her calling. We first see her arguing on behalf of a young woman whose apartment is uninhabitable. And throughout the film we see that her entire life is one of advocacy and generosity. Everyone she meets is either someone to be protected or someone to help her protect others. Her sense of “us” encompassed the world.

C.P. Ellis ran a gas station. He loved his family, including a disabled son who lived in a residential facility.  The Klan made him feel respected and important. He created an outreach program to bring teenagers into the Klan. And he organized outings like the time they shot up the home of  a young white woman coming home from a date with a black man.

He agrees to co-chair the charette because he believes that anyone else who got the position would cave. And there are those in the town who would never associate with the Klan but who are glad to support them in private.

Rockwell and Henson make Ellis and Atwater into fully-developed, complex characters. There’s a world of history in the way Henson walks as Atwater, shoulders hunched, hitching her hips along.  In one scene where she reprimands young black boys for tearing down a KKK hood on display, and then straightens it herself after shooing them away, the expression in her eyes speaks volumes about what she has seen.  And when we see the patience and tenderness Ellis has for his disabled son, we get a sense of all he thinks has been taken from him and how much it matters to him to hold on to something that makes him feel powerful.

This is a thoughtful, sincere drama, beautifully performed with a touching conclusion, first of the story itself, and the small acts of kindness that make “thems” into “us-es,” and then with the footage of the real-life Atwater and Ellis. When she takes his arm to help him walk out of the room, our own us-es get a little larger, too.

Parents should know that this movie deals frankly with issues of bigotry and racism including attacks by the Klu Klux Klan. It includes some strong language with racist epithets and a sexual reference. Characters drink and smoke and there are violent, racially-motivated attacks.

Family discussion: What did Atwater and Ellis have in common? Why did she help his son? Why did she tell the boys not to take down the KKK hood? Who is the Ann Atwater in your community and what are the issues?

If you like this, try: the book by Osha Gray Davidson and the 2018 Oscar winner for Best Picture, Green Book

Related Tags:

 

Based on a book Based on a true story Drama DVD/Blu-Ray movie review Movies -- format Race and Diversity Race and Diversity

Horror is More than Scares and Carnage

Posted on February 27, 2019 at 10:20 pm

As we see in movies like “Get Out,” “28 Days Later,” and “Dawn of the Dead,” horror can be more than scares and carnage. It can reflect and challenge our assumptions. Two new articles provide some fascinating commentary on these themes.

Copyright 1976 Red Bank Films
Mary Beth McAndrews writes on Reel Honey about “reclaiming female exploitation” in horror. “Recently, female directors have been working to reclaim this exploitation by appropriating these tropes to create empowering horror narratives. These films are still violent, but they do not solely depend on the suffering and abjection of their female characters….These directors and writers are just a few of the women in horror working to change the trajectory of the horror narrative and how we view the female body on-screen. Yes, horror is a genre built on violence and gore. But these women are re-evaluating the use of that exploitative violence into something thoughtful, empowering, and equally gory. The monsters they construct are not so fantastical and the scenarios they portray are much more real, giving their violence more meaning and purpose. It is not just about reveling in women’s bodies in pain; it is about understanding their pain.”

Copyright Universal 2017
And on Medium, Marcus Benjamin writes about a new documentary: “Horror Noire: A History Of Black Horror’ Makes The Case For Empathy In A Scary World.” Traditionally, he says, “Outside of dying, tending to the the main character’s need was our number one function. This was all done while doing a disservice to our own lives, which we may or may not have had on screen because no one cared enough to give them one. Or in the case of Rachel True’s character from The Craft, someone decided to cut out portions of the film altogether that explored her family life and other struggles….When you’re not surrounded by people of races other than your own, you don’t develop the empathy gene for them. How can you begin to comprehend how a black person feels about blackface if you don’t have any black people in your circle to tell you? Or if you’ve didn’t grow up with any black friends? Or if you grew up in a racist city or town? Despite all your efforts to learn, you’ll likely have a cultural blindspot or two. Similarly, when the history of cinema is filled with blackface or monsters and gigantic apes as stand-ins for black people, that means entire generations grew up believing black people were always lesser.”

Related Tags:

 

Critics Gender and Diversity Horror Race and Diversity Understanding Media and Pop Culture

“Token” Black Actors of the 90’s

Posted on April 4, 2018 at 7:32 am

On The Undefeated: Interviews with Black Actors who played “token” characters on television in the 1990’s, from “Seinfeld” to “Dawson’s Creek.” Important, moving, and infuriating.

n the 1990s, the wealth of black representation on television could lull you into thinking (if you turned the channel from Rodney King taking more than 50 blows from Los Angeles Police Department batons) that black lives actually did matter. But almost all of these shows were, in varying ways, an extension of segregated America. It’s there in the memories of the stars below: There were “black shows” and there were “white shows.” If you were a black actor appearing on a white show, you were usually alone.

For some of the most visible black actors coming of age in the 1990s, it’s clear that along with the triumphs came isolation, blatant racial stereotyping and biased casting calls. As for “crossing over” to the mainstream, in the mostly segregated worlds of Seinfeld, Frasier, Melrose PlaceSaved by the Bell: The New ClassFelicityV.I.P.Buffy the Vampire SlayerDawson’s Creek and more, blacks were usually relegated to bit parts or were there for a short time. The Undefeated sat down with eight of these talented women and men. These are their stories. This is history.

Related Tags:

 

Actors Gender and Diversity Gender and Diversity Television Understanding Media and Pop Culture

Mae Abdulbaki on Representation of Middle Eastern People In Movies

Posted on January 29, 2018 at 2:54 pm

Copyright Disney

My friend and fellow critic Mae Abdulbaki has a very thoughtful piece on The Young Folks about the portrayal of Middle Eastern characters and the appearance of actors of Middle Eastern origin in films. Hollywood has a shameful tradition of “browning” white actors for roles in Biblical and historical epics.

To this day, there is still very little representation of Middle Eastern people who aren’t stereotypical terrorists and, if they ever do appear, they’re background characters or there to help white people (sometimes in their own land, see: “Indiana Jones,” “The Mummy” as examples). So when it was announced that there would be a live-action “Aladdin,” I was beyond ecstatic. Finally, a movie that had once been one of the only positive representations of Middle Eastern people on screen was now getting the live-action treatment. But Disney’s adaptation of the beloved animated classic has already hit several bumps in the road–from rumors of not being able to find a Middle Eastern cast, to “browning up” the extras on set–Disney’s inability to properly understand the importance of representation and the need to self-insert a white character where he doesn’t belong proves that the studio, and Hollywood in general, still struggles.

Related Tags:

 

Critics Race and Diversity Understanding Media and Pop Culture

Of the Three Movies Released This Week, the One With the Most Racial and Gender Awareness is….Zootopia

Posted on March 5, 2016 at 12:27 pm

The two live-action releases this week, “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” and “London Has Fallen,” featured stereotyping and white actors playing characters of color. So it was especially refreshing to watch “Zootopia,” a Disney animated movie with talking animals, and discover some genuinely thoughtful and sensitive portrayal of race and gender. It is dispiriting to see that in 2016 movies like “Gods of Egypt” and “Whisky Tango Foxtrot” are using American, Australian, and European actors to play Middle Eastern characters. As Ann Hornaday points out in a very perceptive essay for the Washington Post,

, starring Tina Fey as an intrepid, amusingly clumsy television reporter assigned to cover the war in Afghanistan, takes full advantage of its lead actress’s unforced warmth, in the service of a film that balances drama, romance and comedy with admirable skill. But in the midst of what could have been a thoroughly delightful mid-winter diversion, viewers are presented with the off-putting spectacle of two white actors — Christopher Abbott and Alfred Molina — portraying key Afghan figures in the story, one wearing layers of bronzing powder and a native pakol, the other leering from behind a bushy beard.

The problem goes behind misrepresentation, authenticity, and making it tougher for non-white performers to get jobs and tell their own stories. “It’s a matter of aesthetics,” she notes. “Rather than getting lost in the story up on the screen, viewers find themselves distracted by a bad makeup job or too-obvious prosthetics. Rather than becoming wrapped up in the emotional truth a performer is trying to convey, they remain at arm’s length from a character that can never be fully, seamlessly realized.” It sends messages that audiences of all races cannot help but absorb about standards of beauty and appropriation.

Copyright Disney 2016
Copyright Disney 2016

But “Zootopia,” an animated family movies, has a remarkably sophisticated and thoughtful understanding of race and gender, perhaps because the characters are all animals, so the message is metaphorical. As Slate’s Dan Kois writes in a piece called “Disney’s Zootopia is a Delightful Kids’ Movie that is Also Totally About Racial Profiling,”

The movie gets laughs from some surprisingly touchy racial material: “A bunny can call another bunny cute, but you can’t,” Hopps scolds Wilde. Later, another character gets reprimanded for an impropriety that, famously, black men and women have to deal with all the time: “You can’t just touch a sheep’s wool!”

But as broad as the movie sometimes plays, it delivers a clear message that when individuals prejudge others based on their heritage—or when a police force cracks down on a certain kind of person based only on their own bias and fear—people get hurt and treated unfairly.

The lead character is a small female bunny who responds tartly to being called “cute” by explaining that bunnies can use that term about each other, but it is inappropriate from another species. And the focus on the story is on her challenges in overcoming stereotypes — and realizing that she has some of her own to overcome, too. This is a lesson the makers of films like “Gods of Egypt” and “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” should learn as well.

Related Tags:

 

Commentary Gender and Diversity Race and Diversity
THE MOVIE MOM® is a registered trademark of Nell Minow. Use of the mark without express consent from Nell Minow constitutes trademark infringement and unfair competition in violation of federal and state laws. All material © Nell Minow 1995-2024, all rights reserved, and no use or republication is permitted without explicit permission. This site hosts Nell Minow’s Movie Mom® archive, with material that originally appeared on Yahoo! Movies, Beliefnet, and other sources. Much of her new material can be found at Rogerebert.com, Huffington Post, and WheretoWatch. Her books include The Movie Mom’s Guide to Family Movies and 101 Must-See Movie Moments, and she can be heard each week on radio stations across the country.

Website Designed by Max LaZebnik