How The Best Of Enemies Stands Out From All Other Civil Rights Biopics

The Best Of Enemies Sam Rockwell smokes with Taraji P. Henson's face layered in the background

When making a film that covers a part of history as cinematically saturated as the civil rights movement, it’s important to have a fresh angle for the audience to take in. It’s not an easy job, but when done correctly, it really makes the difference when trying to sell a film like this weekend’s The Best of Enemies. Based on the true story of the fight for school desegregation in Durham, North Carolina, this story’s unique perspective is a tried and true method that focuses more on the characters and their transformation, rather than the events themselves.

No one understands this better than the film’s stars, Taraji P. Henson and Sam Rockwell, and they said as much in their conversation with CinemaBlend, as we were on hand for The Best of Enemies’ recent press day. Sitting down with Henson and Rockwell, their feelings on just how this film stands out are pretty indicative of such an angle, as they provided the following thoughts when asked about that subject:

Henson: 'I think that what makes [The Best of Enemies] uniquely different is that you see a real transformation happen. Not that in other movies you don’t see the transformations of the characters, but I’ve never seen a film where a Ku Klux member denounces the KKK, and becomes a civil rights activist.'Rockwell: 'And that’s true, he tore up his card. Spoiler alert for the movie. It spoils the ending.'

Respectively playing civil rights activist Ann Atwater and prominent regional leader of the Ku Klux Klan C.P. Ellis, Taraji P. Henson and Sam Rockwell are in agreement that the key detail that makes The Best of Enemies different from the various civil rights biopics that exist is the element of transformation.

While Ellis’ transformation from white supremacist to his eventual position as a labor crusader who denounces his Klan membership may be the more visible, and definitely more surprising one, there’s still a transformation that occurs on Atwater’s end. Seeing her go from a sworn enemy of C.P. Ellis to an actual friend and collaborator is the other half of the equation, which only makes the end result of The Best of Enemies all the sweeter. However, there’s another interesting discussion to be had thanks to this conversation.

Specifically, that second line of thought is in the debate over what counts as a spoiler when it comes to a movie like The Best of Enemies. As the film is an adaptation of a piece of history, rather than a whole cloth fabrication of fictional basis, but is also based on a story that’s not widely discussed, the line between spoiled or not spoiled can be somewhat blurry. This is especially true as not only is there a treasure trove of information available on this very subject in reference materials, there’s other adaptations that have told this story before the narrative film version was even in production.

Taking all of this into account, Sam Rockwell, a recent veteran of historical adaptation pictures thanks to his work on Vice and the upcoming FX series Fosse/Verdon, sounded like he was of the mind that revealing that detail about his character before people have been able to see The Best of Enemies was indeed a spoiler. However, Taraji P. Henson believes that the other side of the coin is true. She said as much during that very same conversation, as she laid out the following case for historical movies being somewhat spoiler proof:

It doesn’t, because the movie is already out there. It’s a play. If you know anything about this film, it’s not like the gig is up. It actually happened, and if anybody wants to google it, they’re gonna find out.

One could say that even with the historical evidence provided, knowing that C.P. Ellis tears up his Klan card at the end of The Best of Enemies is a spoiler because it’s crucial to the story that the film is telling. But no matter which side of the argument you land on, it’s easy to agree that The Best of Enemies’ usage of the personal transformation angle is what makes it a special case when it comes to a film approaching an often covered part of history. And so long as there are stories deeply rooted in how people reacted to events such as these, then there’s still room left to tell those stories in the world of cinema.

The Best of Enemies bridges the gap between history and cinema, on April 5. Stay tuned to CinemaBlend, as we’ll have more coverage on this film throughout the week. Though if you’re looking for more true to life stories headed to theaters this year, our 2019 release calendar is there to help you decide on which stories to follow.

Mike Reyes
Senior Movies Contributor

Mike Reyes is the Senior Movie Contributor at CinemaBlend, though that title’s more of a guideline really. Passionate about entertainment since grade school, the movies have always held a special place in his life, which explains his current occupation. Mike graduated from Drew University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science, but swore off of running for public office a long time ago. Mike's expertise ranges from James Bond to everything Alita, making for a brilliantly eclectic resume. He fights for the user.