The Best of Enemies

Jul 8, 2021

Learn about an important civil-rights event and bathe in two fine performances.

Netflix Excellence: The Best of Enemies

Just when you thought you’d had enough Green-Book style depiction of race relations in the South, Netflix brings you a better rendition based on actual events in its original The Best of Enemies. You may not like revisiting 1971 Durham, North Carolina, and its contentious school integration.

You will, however, care very much about its abiding humanism and two powerful performances: Taraji P. Henson as Ann Atwater, a black activist taking no prisoners, and Sam Rockwell as C.P. Ellis, an Exalted Cyclops of the Durham KKK.

In reality and not just because it works dramatically, these opponents ended on the same humanistic side as the council determined to integrate, even though the Supreme Court had already decided that was going to be the way (they may have thought they were exercising their freedom of choice, but this depiction is a far better resolution as they make it their own).

The right approach director Robin Bissell takes is gradually to show C.P. change from hard right to center, with no smoking gun of change other than maybe the kindness shown by Blacks to his disabled son.  Yet even Ann has an arc from righteous to catholic as she witnesses the challenges both races experience. The changes are not glacial; they are organically evolving in the film’s reasoned pace.

Although I sometimes complain Netflix is too soft, in The Best of Enemies it hits the right tone and emphasizes real-life ambiguities that breathe life into a subject we have not yet tired of—equality. Watch two consummate actors play out history as it must have been.

C.P. Ellis: “She looked at me like I was some kind of monster.”

Mary Ellis (Anne Heche): “What did you expect?”

An entertaining and informative evening with you and Netflix.

The Best of Enemies

Director: Robin Bissell

Screenplay: Bissell, Osha Gray Davidson, from his 'The Best of Enemies: Race and Redemption in the New South'

Cast: Taraji P. Henson (Hidden Figures), Sam Rockwell (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)

Run Time: 2h 13m

Rating: PG-13

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at