Apr 4, 2019
My friend has a strange secret hobby. He really likes watching videos of people punching Nazis, which, apparently, can be found on YouTube. His logic is that everyone should like punching Nazis.
I get the concept. There’s the rush that comes with someone getting a faceful of punching that can’t be matched. Captain America makes it look really cool. In the face of evil, we should - on paper - do anything we can to eradicate such evil. It is the tolerance of evil that makes it spread.
But we can’t punch our way out of the divisions that our country faces. And maybe we shouldn’t. A question must be raised: is fighting evil through non-violent and humanitarian means a form of tolerance, or is it the only hope we have in seeing real, lasting change?
“The Best of Enemies” is probably going to get completely buried this weekend. It is opening against big movies: “Shazam!” and “Pet Sematary.” I am not going to hide it. I really want to see those movies. But “The Best of Enemies” is a movie that we, as a country, need right now.
When I watched the trailer, I was pretty skeptical. Since “Green Book” won Best Picture at the Academy Awards this year, I have been wary of the easy-answers-guide-to-historical-racism kind of movies. Too often, I feel like we are given movies where topics like racism seem to have been solved and they seem intended to remind us that we are in an era of enlightenment. That’s a dangerous narrative.
The trailer for “The Best of Enemies” looked like it was going to be another “Green Book.” I foresaw the story of a racist man who learns to love by getting to know an interesting person of color. Through friendship, they would solve the problem of racism.
I am so grateful that “The Best of Enemies” is not that movie. Set in North Carolina in 1971, the story chronicles the true tale of Ann Atwater and C.P. Ellis. It is not a spoiler to say that the two end up friends. The film opens with the audio of the two discussing each other. Over the course of the film, the two are responsible for being the opposing voices of school integration in a town overshadowed by the Ku Klux Klan.
Ann Atwater, a woman of color, has been the voice for change in this town, while C.P. Ellis is the local president of the Ku Klux Klan. These two could not be farther apart. Going into this film, I thought it was going to be a situation where small kindnesses and passing jokes would change the hearts of these two individuals. Perhaps the movie would parallel the conflicting philosophies of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia; a tale of two unlikely friends.